SGR records high Christmas bookings as tourism sector reaps big

Few seats remain between December 1 and January 4.

In Summary

•Domestic tourists form the biggest part of travellers according to booking details.

•This comes as hotels at the coast expect 100% occupancy.

Passengers board a train at the SGR Mombasa Terminus/FILE
Passengers board a train at the SGR Mombasa Terminus/FILE

The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) passenger trains from Nairobi to Mombasa are nearly fully booked for December, as hotels report a boom in the upcoming festive season.

With Christmas almost a month and a half away, the operator – Africa Star Railway Operation Company (Afristar), and Kenya Railways have reported passenger services to be above 90 per cent booked, with expectations of a sell-out in the coming few days.

“Few seats remain between December 1 and January 4 as most seats have been taken by domestic tourists and travellers going to Mombasa and the coast region, definitely for Christmas and New Year festivities,” management told the Star.

This week's Kenya Airways pilots strike also led to a higher demand for train services, with Kenya Railways increasing the number of coaches plying the Standard Gauge Railway route to Mombasa.

“Over the past few days, we have experienced an unprecedented surge in demand for the Madaraka Express Passenger Service,” reads a statement.

The latest developments however have not come as a surprise as the train service has continued to move masses to the coast region, in what is seen as a preferred mode over road transport.

It is also offering cheaper tickets, at Sh1,000 for economy and Sh3,000 for first-class.

Children below three years are not charged any fee to take a ride on the train while those from 3-11 years pay half the price adults pay on the economy and first-class tickets.

The cheapest flights to Mombasa during the Christmas week is currently at about Sh9,000, for early bookings, with prices expected to go as high as Sh17,000.

Buses are averaging Sh1, 500 and Sh3,000 depending on the coach classes and companies.

It will be a repeat of the last year when SGR was fully booked a month to Christmas, forcing holidaymakers to seek expensive alternatives such as self-drive, passenger service vehicles and air travel. 

The SGR passenger service was officially launched and operations began in June 2017. It commenced with a train service a day between Mombasa and Nairobi.

Over time, due to demand and efficiency as well as safety of the service, Kenya Railways has been able to increase the frequency of the service to three train services a day between the two cities,” Kenya Railways managing director Phillip Mainga said.

The service has also expanded to cover Phase IIA of the SGR rail network serving the towns of Ngong, Mai Mahiu and Suswa.

In the year to October, the Madaraka Express had moved a total of 1.9 million (1,927, 250 ) passengers, meaning it will surpass 2021 numbers by the end of December.

According to the Economic Survey 2022, passengers through SGR increased from 806,000 in 2020 to 1, 933,000 in 2021.

During the year, earnings from the Madaraka Express more than doubled to Sh2.2 billion from Sh896 million in 2020.

Similarly, revenue earned from passenger services on the Metre Gauge Railway (MGR) rose significantly from Sh83 million in 2020 to Sh234 million in 2021.

The SGR has been instrumental in moving local and international tourists to Mombasa, with ripple effects being felt in other parts of the coastal region.

Hotels in the Tsavo National Park and Amboseli are also reaping big profits as the SGR continues to complement tour operators’ services and accommodation facilities.

"The SGR is convenient and cheaper than air travel if you don’t want to fly. It also offers you an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the wildlife in the parks,” Scottish tourist Hagh Lamarque said during a visit to Kenya.

For Roy Nyagah, a city resident, he prefers the train due to its safety record and offerings for group travel, which allows him to travel with family during festive seasons.

 "It is convenient and affordable that is what I can say,” Nyagah, who has booked for December 18 with a return in early January, told the Star.


Hoteliers at coast have for the past three years increased linkages with the train services, with almost every major beach resort and hotel in Mombasa and Diani offering SGR packages.

This comes with pick-ups and dropping at the rail station terminals. Travel agents have also reported increased bookings this year as the industry recovers from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“There is a lot of group travel with both North Coast (Mombasa) and South Coast busy. We expect a lot of activities in the next three to four weeks,” said Wafula Waswa, a seasoned hotelier and CEO of Wells Corporate Holidays and Travel company.

An industry spot check by the Star shows most hotels in Mombasa and Diani are already fully booked for the December and New year period, as Kenyans defy the tough economic times to make early reservations.

The hotels are benefiting from domestic tourists, mostly Nairobi residents.

According to the Kenya Coast Tourism Association (KCTA), some facilities have stopped taking in guests with the region expecting up to 100 per cent occupancy during the Christmas peak.

“We expect most hotels to be fully booked during Christmas and the first week of January,” said KCTA chief executive officer Julius Owino. 

In Mombasa, hotels such as Sarova Whitesands and Flamingo Beach Resort have reported good business for December. 

Voyager Beach Resort has stopped selling for the Christmas period as it is already fully booked.

In Diani (South Coast), Neptune Beach Resort, Leopard Beach Resort and Baobab Beach Resort, which runs three luxurious properties – The Baobab, The Maridadi, and Kole Kole, are some of the hotels reporting a boom.

Swahili Beach resort is fully booked for the festive week, with all hotels offering SGR and flight packages for return trips to Nairobi.

The long school holiday which starts on November 25, to late January, are also expected to benefit hotels.

“We are seeing a steady recovery from the effects of Covid so this year will be better than last year. The domestic market is contributing well to the recovery,” Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC) chief executive Mike Macharia said. 

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star