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Local tourism boosts airlines amid Covid-19 travel hiccups

By Jacqueline Mahugu | Jan 23rd 2022 | 3 min read
By Jacqueline Mahugu | January 23rd 2022

Kisumu Airport manager Selina Gor [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Monica Nzula buckles in her two-month-old baby using a special seatbelt provided by the airline as we prepare for takeoff.

One would imagine that she would be wary of flying with such a young baby, but she is confident that the 30-minute flight from Nairobi to Kisumu will go smoothly.

“I’ve used Kenya Airways about six times. This is my second time to use it to Kisumu,” she says.

The plane is packed to capacity, a far cry from the half-empty flights at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

When Covid-19 broke out in March 2020, there were times flights would have only five people, says Kisumu International Airport Manager Selina Gor.

The airline industry was on its knees. “One of the biggest shocks came when we lost international travel, because the East African region, and Kenya especially, is renowned for international travel and tourism,” says Ms Gor.

She says they had to think about how to survive without international passengers. Fortunately, domestic tourism had been picking up for a while.

“Kenya Tourism Board and the Ministry of Tourism at some point changed their aggressive campaigns from international and also started to attract the domestic traveller,” the manager says.

“Kenya Wildlife Service has been giving incentives for the domestic traveller and doing a lot of campaigns in schools and other institutions locally, just to show what Kenya has to offer and how you can also get to enjoy local tourism within the region.”

Magical Kenya also created a site informing Kenyans where they could get the best offers and concessions.

In addition, airlines started looking at how they could give best value addition to a domestic traveller by giving all-inclusive packages.

“And they said, ‘We can now give you a package in collaboration with our hotels where you can get a flight, it’s an all-inclusive package where you fly, you get accommodation and you get airport transfer,’” says Gor.

All that made it more affordable and easier to fly, garnering interest from domestic tourists, making up for the loss of international tourists.

Safety fears

Despite this, for the first two months of the pandemic, the industry was paralysed, with people nervous about safety of air travel.

Kenya Airports Authority and key stakeholders such as Kenya Airways came up with a joint strategy of putting mitigations in place, from sanitation to social distancing, maintaining Covid protocols and ensuring the same standards were maintained within the aircraft.

On our Kisumu flight, the attendants are wearing personal protective equipment, common on every flight now. Perception is everything, and seeing such changes restored confidence in flying so much that the number of domestic travellers taking flights is surprisingly higher than before the pandemic.

Before Covid, the airlines were recording between 400,000 and 500,000 passengers annually but the numbers have crossed the half a million mark, Gor says. 

Covid 19 Time Series


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