NAIROBI, October 27 – The number of tourists visiting Kenya from the Middle East is set to increase significantly following the introduction of a low cost airline from Sharjah in the United Arabs Emirates.
Air Arabia’s Head of Commercial Operations A.K Nizaar told reporters on Sunday that the launch of their cost-effective service between Nairobi and Sharjah was bound to attract more visitors and the working population from the United Arabs Emirates (UAE) and the wider Gulf region into Kenya.
“Kenya is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. We will work very closely with the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) to bring in more visitors from the destinations that we operate in,” he said after the arrival of the airline’s maiden flight at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
The fares are over 30 percent lower than that of their competitors on the same route.
The Nairobi service is the fourth in Africa and the 43rd destination for Air Arabia worldwide. The airline will have four flights per week but they hope to increase this to daily flights in the near future.
Mr Nizaar said the launch also signified their commitment to the African market and observed that the entry into the country would serve to strengthen the cordial relations that Kenya and the UAE enjoy.
“We are sure that this service will further enhance the commercial activities and employment opportunities between the two countries,” he added.
Air Arabia is the international airline of the Emirate of Sharjah and commenced operations in October 2003. Last year, the airline was listed on the Dubai Financial Market which saw its value increase to $4.5billion up from the initial capital of $15 million.
Also present at the function was KTB Managing Director Dr Achieng Ong’ong’a who assured the airline of their support in their quest to bring in more travellers to Kenya.
He disclosed the UAE was currently the major source market for Kenya in the Middle East. He noted that the market had in the first nine months of this year registered over 7,000 tourists.
“This shows that this is one of the areas that the board is going to focus more on,” he noted and added that the government plans to allocate more funds to market the destination.
KTB, he added was diversifying its marketing strategies and was now intent on refocusing on the Middle East, Far East and emerging markets of Eastern Europe such as Russia in order to increase the tourists’ arrivals.
Dr Ong’ong’a expressed confidence that the country would record increased traffic from these regions in due course and reach the numbers that the country saw in 2007, which was its best year yet.
He backed the airline’s decision to launch flights to Kenya saying this was an expression of the renewed confidence that investors have in the country as a prime tourist and investment destination. He was optimistic that more low-budget scheduled airlines would start flying to Nairobi soon.
“The visitors who come through scheduled airlines are good spenders and so we welcome such initiatives,” he said.
Speaking separately to Capital Business News, Dr Ong’ong’a said the country was recovering well from the effects of the post election chaos witnessed earlier in the year.
Although he declined to divulge any figures saying the official results would be released on October 31, he said the tourism numbers from major source markets were increasing steadily.
He however cautioned that the effects of the credit crunch in developed countries particularly the United States coupled with the impact of the high fuel costs on airlines would dent this year’s earnings and tourist numbers.
“I’ll be releasing the figures on Friday but we know for sure these problems will impact on our figures. What we don’t know is to what degrees this will be affected,” he concluded.