Hotels turn focus to international market after festivities boom

They have renewed the open skies policy talks.

In Summary

•Industry players want more direct scheduled flights with the likes of Turkish Airline, Qatar, KLM and Emirates on their wish list.

•Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers says Kenya has the potential to tap visitors from Eastern Europe which is currently experiencing winter. 

Tourists enjoy dinner during an art and cultural night at La Malindina Hotel in Malindi
Tourists enjoy dinner during an art and cultural night at La Malindina Hotel in Malindi

Hotel industry players are now shifting focus to the international market after registering good business over the festive season.

This comes even as they continue to gain from the long school holidays, which will end with next week’s re-opening.

Most hotels in Mombasa and Diani currently have occupancy of between 60-70 per cent, mainly families who extended their stay and last minute travelers ahead of school reopening.

“Normally facilities start being empty in the first week of January but things are different this year. There is still business mainly as a result of the school calendar,” Kenya Coast Tourism Association (KCTA) chief executive Julius Owino told the Star on the telephone, yesterday.

Apart from hotels, holiday homes are also still enjoying brisk business.

“We are happy that many holidaymakers have extended their stay and this has brought good tidings to the sector. Industry players are now banking on relatively calm post-general elections in the country to diversify their products and make money,” said Bobby Kamani, managing director Diani Reef.

The Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers (KAHC) yesterday said facilities in parks mainly Maasai Mara, Mount Kenya Region and Amboseli have also continued to register good business after the festivities.

“This time round, Kenyans have really done justice to the coast product and safari. We have seen a massive improvement in domestic travel,” KAHC chief executive Mike Macharia said.

The numbers are however expected to drop after next week, with the main remaining potential business from the domestic market being conferences from government and corporates.

To keep the industry going, hoteliers have renewed the open skies policy talks hoping the government will clear more direct scheduled flights to Mombasa.

They include Turkish Airline, Qatar, KLM and Emirates, which are keen to fly directly to Mombasa.

Kenya Airways, which in December commenced four times a week flights to Dubai, is mainly serving outbound business travellers.

The domestic market has been key in supporting the local hotel and tourism industry since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the just concluded festive period seeing most hotels full.

“Going forward we need to go back to the open skies conversation and see if we can bring in more international tourists. With this, the issue of low season will be a thing of the past,” KCTA’s Owino said.

Currently, only Ethiopian Airlines and RwandAir have scheduled flights to Mombasa, with a number of chartered flights that mainly serve the Germany, Italy and Romanian markets.

His sentiments have been echoed by the hotel industry lobby group (KAHC) which last week met Tourism CS Peninah Malonza over the Open Skies policy, which will allow more international scheduled flights not only to Mombasa, but also Nairobi and possibly Kisumu. 

According to Macharia, Kenya has the potential to tap visitors from Eastern Europe which is currently experiencing winter. 

“We had a conversation with the CS….If we can get a few more frequencies, then we can be sure of a good recovery as we continue to grow numbers,” Macharia said. 

This, he said will also boost conference and business travel to Nairobi which has started-off the year well. 

“Nairobi is a hub and business meetings are back. We have the infrastructure especially the expressway where you get to your hotel within 10 minutes from the airport. Now what we need is to get more flights,” Macharia said. 

There has been a push to implement the 1999 Pan-African treaty on liberalisation of access to air transport markets, the Yamoussoukro Decision, which was coiled towards addressing shortcomings in the continent's aviation industry. 

Meanwhile, international arrivals to Kenya have continued to pick with a strong performance last year, compared to 2021.

In the year to August, the country recorded a 91.3 per cent increase in the number of foreign tourists.

Total arrivals for the eight months period were 924,812, up from 483, 246 international tourists who visited the country in the same period previous year, data by the Tourist Research Institute (TRI) show.

Inbound tourism earnings more than doubled to Sh167.1 billion compared to the Sh83.2 billion recorded in a similar period last year.

Holiday remained the main purpose of visiting Kenya by international tourists followed by those visiting family and friends, then Business and MICE (meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibition).

Total arrivals for 2022 is projected to have reached 1.4 million, though official numbers are yet to be released.

This is up from 870, 467 recorded in full year 2021, which was a growth from 567. 848 arrivals in 2020, a year that the industry took a beating from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Earnings are expected to grow to Sh265.4 billion up from Sh146.5 billion recorded in full year 2021.

Kenya forecasts to have 1.9 million international tourists this year with the number expected to grow to 2.2 million next year.

Full recovery on international numbers is expected between this year and 2024, according to the country’s tourism ministry.

The best year however remains 2019 when arrivals hit a high of 2.04 million visitors with earnings of Sh296.2 billion.

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star