Players in the hospitality sector at the Coast are pushing for the implementation of an open skies policy to enable direct flights from tourism source markets to Mombasa.
As the country celebrated World Tourism Day, Mombasa Governor Abdulswamand Nassir also called for waiving visa requirements for tourists arriving on cruise ships at the Port of Mombasa.
Mr Nassir argued that charging tourists for visas each time they disembark from a ship harms the tourism sector, which is vital to the Coast’s economy.
“To demand visa fee each time a tourist steps off a ship is killing the sector,” said Nassir, during the celebration attended by tourism sector representatives and legislators from Mombasa and Kiambu county assemblies.
Mohamed Hersi, Director of Operations at Pollman Tours and Safaris Limited, said coastal counties should establishing effective policies, both locally and nationally, to attract more visitors.
“More tourists mean more trucks delivering foodstuffs at Kongowea market every day, which translates to booming business and job creation. The tourism sector is the backbone of the county’s economy,” Mr Hersi said.
An open skies policy entails liberalising a country’s airspace to grant foreign airlines easier access to its airports. This policy change is expected to enhance Kenya’s tourism flow and solidify its position as a regional aviation hub, drawing inspiration from success stories in countries like Morocco and South Africa.
Experts say that Morocco’s tourism sector witnessed a revolution within a decade following the implementation of an open skies policy, with tourist arrivals increasing from two million to 12 million.
In 2005, Morocco signed an open skies agreement with the European Union, marking the EU’s first aviation agreement with a non-European nation. Afterward, 22 new foreign airlines, including 19 European carriers such as Ryanair and EasyJet, Buraq Air, Etihad, and Turkish Airlines, initiated operations to and from Morocco.
Similarly, South Africa experienced favourable outcomes when it opened its skies to foreign airlines. StatsSA, which monitors tourist arrivals, noted positive changes in Durban and Cape Town after South Africa adopted open skies.
However, despite having an estimated 40,000 hotel beds, the Coast’s tourism sector continues to face challenges due to what experts consider as restrictive policies.
During the region’s golden years of tourism until the 1990s, Moi International Airport used to receive over 90 charter flights every week. This number has dwindled to an average of 30.
Mr Nassir announced plans to introduce a reliable transportation service to take tourists from cruise ships to historical sites in the county.
The governor called for simplifying travel for tourists from countries like the US, Uganda, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, and India, which are the primary source markets for Mombasa. Currently, these tourists incur additional costs because they have to connect flights.