NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 7 – Players in Kenya’s tourism industry had their fingers crossed at the end of the day Wednesday, hoping for a quick resumption of business at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport which had been shut down after a fire at dawn.
This is the tourism peak season in the country with thousands of international visitors arriving daily through the airport.
Kenya Tourism Federation Chief Executive Officer Agatha Juma said the sector was receiving many arrivals, especially of tourists expected to witness the Wildebeest migration at the Masai Mara game reserve.
“The effects of this (temporary airport closure) could be humongous because remember, this airport is the regional hub and there are a lot of people coming in and going out. But if the cancellation of international flights which mostly depart and land in the evenings will not be extended, then the damage may not be as big,” Juma told Capital FM Business.
Business people especially in the East African Region will also feel the heat, as most use JKIA to connect to the rest of regional countries.
“We are all keenly looking at the situation and it is obviously very unfortunate. Such a major airport is like the main entry of the country. But we hope that things will go back to normal soon,” Kenya Private Sector Alliance Chairman Vimal Shah said, “now all our flower exportation is interrupted and also the key sector, called tourism.”
“This is the busiest time of year for international flights,” said Duncan Muriuki, head of Destination Africa, a tour operator.
“We have people stuck in Mombasa so it will definitely impact us negatively,” he said, adding that clients stuck in Mombasa and the coastal strip would face journeys of several hours by road to the capital.
Jane Ngige, who heads the Kenya Flower Council, warned that if the situation was not resolved swiftly the sector “would be one of the hardest hit by the airport crisis”.
However, Ngige said cargo handlers had been able to store produce delivered to the airport despite the fire.
Harvesting at flower farms had been halted on Wednesday while the trade association waited for more information, she said.
On the other hand most of the hotel players feel the impact of the JKIA grounding will be in the long term.
The chairman of the Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association Mohamed Hersi said the crisis may lead most of the hotels experiencing an increase in booking cancellations especially from international visitors in the next few days.
Hersi who is also the General Manager of Sarova Whitesands hotel in Mombasa said some of the international visitors who were to come to Kenya may re-schedule their visits until the situation normalizes.
“I don’t think this is the time for hotels to enjoy because of the sudden check-in increase. Remember the passengers on transit are here for a short time because of the crisis. Most of these international tourists are not going to call and ask if they should come next week. No. they will just cancel,” Hersi regretted.
He noted that most of the airlines were likely to incur huge costs as they cater for the welfare of their passengers in the hotels and also from the expected travel cancellation.
Kenya Airways said most of its transiting passengers had to be taken to hotels in Mombasa and Nairobi as they waited for further instructions.
However on the international airlines, the costs that they are likely to incur are from the cancellation of the flights as most of the passengers were scheduled to arrive at the airport in the evening hence did not need to go to hotels.
“Passengers who wish to cancel their trips may have their remaining coupons exchanged for future travel or fully refunded provided there is a residual value remaining after reassessing the fare for the portion of the journey that has already been completed,” said a statement from Emirates Airlines.
“Customers on QR535 NBO->DOH today are asked to go to Nairobi Intercontinental Hotel for 3PM coach to Kilimanjaro. To Doha @630AM,” read a tweet by Qatar Airways to customers heading to Doha… ”customers holding bookings on these flights will be provided alternative travel options.”