-South Coast tourism players say the facility is an important infrastructure in promotion of tourists in Kwale.
-According to statistics from the Kenya Airports Authority, the passenger numbers to Ukunda Airport have rapidly grown by 240 per cent in four years between 2014 and 2018.
Tourism stakeholders at the Kenyan South coast have lauded the government decision to upgrade the Ukunda Airport to a tune of Sh100 million.
The Diani Hospitality Owners on Wednesday said the airport is a critical infrastructure in the promotion of tourism in the region.
Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala has confirmed the government’s commitment to upgrade the facility, which has in the recent years seen the growth of the number of passengers.
According to statistics from the Kenya Airports Authority, the passenger numbers have rapidly grown by 240 per cent in four years.
Around 2014, Ukunda Airport received about 55,207 passengers annually, however, the number grew to over 175,460 in 2018.
The airport, which is the easiest link connecting the Capital Nairobi to Diani beach destination is served by JamboJet, Airk Kenya, Safari Link, Fly 540 and Aeronav among other private charters.
According to Balala, the government is planning to expand the run-way and other key infrastructure at the airport.
“We will expand the runway so that the airport is able to accommodate large planes. We will also advocate for the name change from Ukunda Airport to Diani Airport, so that the tourists can easily identify with the place when they land,” said Balala.
Diani is an international brand, having voted Africa's Lead Best Destination five times in the World Travel Awards.
Diani Hospitality Owners vice chairperson Bobby Kamani said the announcement of the expansion of the Ukunda Airport comes at a right time.
He said hospitality players and the general economy of Kwale County looks forward to getting businesses back to normal capacity after being hard-hit by Covid-19.
“It would be a huge blessing if we can get this airport extension to materialize,” said Kamani.
He said with the ever increasing number of arrivals and the tourism industry showing signs of recovery, they expect to see more domestic, regional and international tourists in the region.
“We hope to start seeing bigger regional flights flying directly to Diani rather than flying to Mombasa. We hope to see regional flights from Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda flying directly into Diani with larger capacity aircrafts,” said Kamani.
At the same time, Balala has urged the hoteliers in the country to fully embrace the Covid-19 vaccines for their staff.
According to Balala, vaccination of hotel staff is a major step towards the resumption of activities in the tourism sector, which is greatly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In April this year, Balala launched a nationwide Covid-19 vaccination drive for frontline personnel in the tourism and hospitality sector.
“Having all our hotel staff vaccinated is an assurance to guests that their safety is guaranteed, while on holiday in Kenya,” said Balala.
In April, Kenya was included in the UK Red List as among the countries considered either risky for having high cases of Covid-19 or poor surveillance of cases to prevent infection.
However, on September 17, the UK government removed Kenya from its Red List.
Balala said among the reasons why Kenya was removed from the UK Red List is because of the vaccination campaign that has been ongoing.
At Diani Reef Beach Resort, all the 220 staff have been vaccinated against Covid-19, according Kamani, who is also the managing director of the facility.
“Having all our staff vaccinated gives more confidence to our guests. They are sure that they are served by staff who are safe,” he said.
Kamani said the government must be applauded for their effective roll out of vaccinations for the hospitality industry in Kenya.
“It is important for all those working in the hospitality sector to ensure that they are fully vaccinated for their own comfort, the comfort of their family members and that of the guests,” said Kamani.
As of September 23, Kenya had administered at least 3.6 million doses of Covid vaccine, which represents about 3.4 per cent of the total population.