Direct flights to New York and new routes opened up by Kenya Airways #ticker:KQ helped to lift visitor numbers at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, shoring up tourism earnings.
Kenya Airways introduced over three new routes last year including Italy and Geneva, a move that has impacted positively on arrivals at the Kenya’s main port of entry, according to the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA).
According to data from KAA, passenger numbers at the JKIA grew from 738,861 in 2018 December to 785,861 in the review period.
However, in the same month, regional airports, especially along the coastal towns registered a decline in number of passengers in what KAA attributes to low tourism activities.
But on overall, the number of passengers who used the airports went down in December, compared with the corresponding period last year, weighed down by low numbers in regional airports.
The number of passengers served by the airports in December this year was 1,093,401. This was a decline of about 5.4 percent compared to the traffic attained during the same month in 2018.
“It was only JKIA that managed to register some notable increase tied to the New York route as well as the new destinations in Europe such as Geneva and Fiumicino,” says KAA.
“Much of the decline in numbers was attributable to the coastal stations, namely Mombasa International Airport, Malindi, Ukunda and Manda tied to slower uptake of tourism related activities,” added the agency.
KAA says Ukunda and Manda Airstrips had fewer passengers mainly as a result of constrained charter operations, particularly by Air Kenya and East African Safari Air on the Ukunda-Wilson route.
It is around the same time when Silverstone Air pulled out of the market following a number of mishaps involving the carrier, which saw the regulator stall a number of its aircraft, before the airline eventually halted its operations.
According to the recent report from the Ministry of Tourism, US was one of the countries that registered higher number of tourism to Kenya, a move that helped in lifting earnings.
According to official data, revenue from tourism rose to Sh163.6 billion in 2019 from Sh157.4 billion recorded in 2018.
The direct US flights, launched in October 2018, are to date the most marketed route since Kenya Airways began its turnaround plan. The flights now offer the fastest connection from East Africa to New York City.
Former KQ chief executive Sebastian Mikosz said last year that while the Nairobi-New York route was crucial for the national carrier’s growth and positioning in the region, it would not form KQ’s financial lifeline.
“I do not consider it to be a lucrative route. There is nothing lucrative about flying to New York. The route is necessary but difficult,” Mr Mikosz said last year.
“New York is performing in the range that we expected. It is feeding our African network. It positions us differently.”
At least 105,084 passengers have been flown on the route in the past one year in the 594 flights made on New York route between October 2018 and November 2019.
KQ initially targeted a daily flight on the route but it cut to five days a week later, citing low demand during the winter season in the US.
The airline, however, resumed daily flight in June on the summer holiday peak to cater for high demand by American tourists visiting East Africa.
The half-year cumulative passenger numbers served at the airports to December 2019 were 6.5 million, a 2.2 percent increase when compared to the half-year position for last year.