By Kepher Otieno and Anderson Ojwang
President Kibaki on Thursday officially opened the much-awaited Kisumu International Airport and announced a raft of development plans lined up for Nyanza.
The airport renovations and expansion, cost Sh3 billion, and started three years ago. It is among the top eight busiest regional airports in East Africa.
President Kibaki said he hoped the project would trigger massive investment in the region and stimulate the hitherto sleepy village economies round Kisumu County and its environs.
The new airport will handle up to 700 persons per hour, translating to two million traffic per annum up from the current traffic of 300,000.
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The President, accompanied by Prime Minister Raila Odinga, urged residents to be ready to harness the airport’s knock-on benefits.
With international flights expected to fly in and out of the airport, lifting cargo and shipping import goods, the airport is bound to be busier than before.
Before its commissioning, the airport was receiving at least 500 tourists per day. This is now expected to triple ten-fold, according to Kenya Airports Authority Managing Director Stephen Gichuki.
Over the recent years, Nyanza has been receiving a steady stream of tourists. The election of Barack Obama, whose father hailed from Kogello in Nyanza, as first black President of US in 2008 put the region on the world map.
It is expected that as he launches his re-election bid, more focus will be drawn to a region known to have nurtured his father — thus rallying more tourist traffic.
The airport is particularly a major boost to Western Tourism Circuit, which for long has remained unreachable and unexplored due to poor roads in the region.
"I am optimistic that this facility will open the western part of the country to the world, create more jobs and spur the region’s economic development," Kibaki said.
In December last year, Tourism Minister Najib Balala pledged to initiate a massive marketing campaign of the Western Tourism Circuit.
While on a tour of the Kisumu International Airport, then just nearing completion, Balala said the facility met the international standards set by the global Aviation Authorities.
Besides bird watching, Western is home to a rich cultural heritage. Some of the cultural sites in western Kenya include Kit Mikayi, Got Ramogi, Kango Ka Jaramogi, Thim lich Ohinga, Simbi Nyaima, and Nyamgodho.
Others are the crying stone, bull fighting and famous shrines all in Kakamega County.
The Government has been working to ease the strain on beach tourism by introducing other packages, sights and sounds undiscovered before. In preparation of the expected traffic in the western region, the Government has since opened a regional hospitality training centre in Kisumu to meet the demands of an impending explosion in the hospitality industry.