Direct US flights a game changer for Kenya’s tourism

Following Kenya’s approval for Category One status by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in April 2017 and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport’s elevation to the status of a Last Point of Departure (LPD), the stage is now set for Kenya Airways (KQ) to launch its inaugural direct flight to the US on October 28.

KQ will be flying daily from Nairobi to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The launch of KQ’s direct flight to the US is an important milestone for the country considering that America Kenya’s leading tourism source market with a share of 11.8 per cent as of December 2017. Tourist arrivals from the US grew by 17 per cent from 97,883 in 2016 to 114,507 in 2017.

Kenya Airways’ direct flight to the US, therefore, comes as a welcome development as it is expected to accelerate the growth of the tourism industry by contributing to increased arrivals.

It is noteworthy that the US is currently one of the world’s best-performing outbound markets, according to the World Travel Monitor. United Nations World Tourism Organisation reports indicate that the US is the world’s second largest tourism source market after China.

Strong outbound demand has been fuelled by a robust US economy, which has increased the purchasing power of travellers. In 2017, tourism expenditure from the US increased by nine per cent to reach Sh13.5 trillion – Sh1.2 trillion more than in 2016.

The launch of direct flights between Nairobi and New York City presents an immediate opportunity that could propel Kenya forward as the East African hub.

Forty-eight American companies and international organisations already have regional hubs in Nairobi. They include the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Google, IBM, General Electric, and Pfizer.

The flight will have a direct impact on the Kenyan economy as it is expected to generate jobs by boosting trade between Kenya and the US, both in terms of goods and services.

The direct flight will facilitate direct cargo shipment of Kenya’s exports such as its flowers, tea, and coffee as well textiles and apparels by air, directly to the US market.

It is especially encouraging to note that Kenya’s exports to the US have been on an upward trend since 2013, closing at Sh47.2 billion in 2017 up from Sh29.9 billion in 2013.

The direct flight will also substantially boost Kenya’s global profile as a tourism destination as it will provide a shorter, quicker and more affordable connection for tourists and business travellers coming to Kenya.

Tourists from North and South America generally connect to Kenya and Africa through Europe, making the duration of their trip about 24 hours. However, with the direct flights, the travel time will reduce drastically to 15 hours. The Kenya Tourism Board anticipates that the reduced travel time will make Kenya the preferred long-haul tourism destination.

As more North Americans look to Africa as their next big vacation destination, Kenya now has an opportunity to expand further into the US market.

Najib Balala, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife.


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