Foreign direct flight restriction to Mombasa hurting tourism - players

Currently, only two international airlines are offering direct scheduled flights to Mombasa.

In Summary

•Hoteliers have claimed to miss out on targeted international conferences as many travelers settle on Nairobi and other place due to connectivity.

•Julius Owino, Kenya Coast Tourism Association CEO said the Kenyan coast is unable to attract more foreign tourists, which means there is low foreign income.

Mombasa County officials from the Tourism Department receive second group of 180 tourists from Ukraine at Moi International Airport.
Mombasa County officials from the Tourism Department receive second group of 180 tourists from Ukraine at Moi International Airport.
Image: FILE

Kenya's restriction to direct international flights to Mombasa has limited the growth of international visitor arrivals in the key tourism destination, industry players say.

They said the lack of an open sky policy has disadvantaged the region which now has to heavily depend on domestic visitors thus denying the country the much needed foreign exchange.

Julius Owino, Kenya Coast Tourism Association Chief Executive Officer told the Star the Kenyan coast is struggling to attract more foreign tourists.

"The only way to resuscitate tourism in Mombasa is to open the skies," Owino told the Star on Tuesday.

He said the government has come up with idealistic procedures 'that are so bureaucratic that are pushing away the airlines trying to fly to Mombasa'.

Currently, the only international airlines with scheduled direct flights to Moi International Airport Mombasa are Ethiopia Airline (from Addis Ababa) and Eurowings Discover (from Germany). 

The two airlines have a combined 11 flights weekly, which is below the 2019 level of at least 15.

Before the 2007 post-election violence, Moi International Airport used to receive over 36 weekly charter flights. 

According to aviation data by the government, direct flights to the coast would go up to 52 weekly in the 90s.

Several airlines including the Turkish airline, Emirates, Flydubai, Qatar have expressed interest to operate direct flights to Mombasa.

Applicants decry delayed clearance by the government through the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority.

In a memo to its travel partners, the Turkish airline recently noted: "although we wanted to start our MIA flights this summer of 2022, unfortunately, we could not get the necessary permission from the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA). For this reason, we regret to state that we had to cancel our Mombasa flights until October 29, 2022."

Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala has advocated for the open skies policy to boost the continent's aviation recovery.

"Protecting individual country's airlines is not a solution. We need to walk the talk in the continent of Africa; to open the airspace," Balala said during a virtual tourism forum dubbed 'Invest, Rebuild and Restart the African Tourism Sector' last year.

Kenya Association of Tour Operators, Coast chairman Ishapal Oberoi told the Star low international arrivals is hurting businesses especially hotels, which are struggling from low earnings.

"There are 50,000 beds available from Lamu to Lunga Lunga all the way to Taita. To fill these beds, we need at least 35,000 tourists. This means at least 200 flights a week are needed," Oberoi said.

He added that due to the flight connections from Nairobi, many tourists cancel their tour booking at the coast, majority citing frustration due to time wasted traveling. 

Hoteliers say they miss out on targeted international conferences as many travellers settle on Nairobi and other places due to connectivity.

Mohammed Hersi, a veteran hotelier at the Coast region said more flights will make the region vibrant.

“There is a reason why Mombasa is designated as an international airport and should never play second fiddle to Nairobi,” Hersi said.

He said travellers are increasingly looking for direct travel to their final destination, therefore, the government should allow more flights to the region.