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Stakeholders call for renaming of Ukunda Airstrip

By Philip Mwakio | February 1st 2021
By Philip Mwakio | February 1st 2021
Travellers getting ready to board a chartered flight at the Ukunda Airstrip (PHOTO: Gideon Maundu)


UKUNDA, KENYA: Stakeholders in the tourism industry want the renaming of Ukunda Airstrip in Kwale County fast-tracked to help turn around tourism fortunes in the region.

The stakeholders want the airstrip renamed Diani airport because of Diani’s global fame as a destination.

Led by Diani Reef Beach Resort & Spa Managing Director Bobby Kamani, the stakeholders said that the upgrade will increase the value of the destination as a result of more flight schedules and an influx of both international and domestic travellers streaming in more often.

''We are at a crossroads with the global Covid-19 pandemic having hit us hard. Any effort aimed at recovery is welcomed,'' Kamani said.

Kamani said that as investors, they remained optimistic of a return to normalcy soon owing to several interventions by the government.

He cited the introduction of the Sh3 billion tourism recovery stimulus package to help jump-start the industry and the planned rollout of Covid-19 vaccines around the world and in Kenya.

''The government must be commended for all it has done to help get the industry back on track. The Tourism Finance Corporation (TFC) is ensuring that the funds are disbursed in pretty good time to successful applicants to carry out refurbishments of their facilities. Once we have a vaccinated global population, we can be pretty sure that there will be confidence among travellers to sample the best of what we have here,'' Kamani said.

Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (Kahc) Coast branch executive officer, Dr. Sam Ikwaye appealed to the government to speed up the Ukunda airstrip upgrade and eventual renaming of the facility to Diani Airport as the name is well known to travellers around the globe.

''First of all branding is significant to this award-winning destination. Internationally, Diani is a big brand that will easily be identified by the many tourists who have visited or have it on their bucket list,'' he said.

Ikwaye added that like most progressive destinations, the upgrade of the airfield will allow for direct marketing and attract bigger aircraft on the route.

In 2019, Ukunda Airstrip received a major boost after the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) commissioned its first modern Sh150 million control tower for safer flight operations.

KCAA director-general, Captain Gilbert Kibe, said then the investment was the product of increased flights to the airstrip, which supports travel to the famed tourist hotspot in Diani, Kwale county.

KCAA has been heavily investing in the safety, security, and efficiency of the aviation sector.

'The mobile tower, according to KCAA will mitigate against service disruptions, incidents, or threats within the air space," said Kibe.

KCAA noted that the Ukunda airfield has seen a jump in traffic at peak hours, which surpasses movement in other major airports.

Ukunda reported 300 flight movements since December with 52 aircraft arrivals and departures captured on January 2.

Although Diani is endowed with one of the best beaches in Africa and also has world-class hotels, accessing the holiday destination is a challenge due to the lack of major airport and ferry problems on the Likoni channel.

Upgrade of the airstrip will allow planes with a capacity of 150 passengers to fly direct from Nairobi to Ukunda.

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