Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was recently granted Category One status by the US aviation body FAA. This allows for direct flights from Nairobi to the United States, bringing Kenya into the coveted club of countries in Africa who are allowed direct flights to the US, which currently only includes Morocco, South Africa, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Cape Verde, Senegal and Ghana.
What does this mean for Kenya?
Being granted access to direct flights between Kenya and the United States opens up a wealth of possibilities for private travel and businesses alike. For starters, it means that the Kenyan exporters are able to cut out the middleman and access the American markets directly. Previously, since flights from Kenya had to layover in Europe in order to access American airspace. This had opened up opportunities for middlemen potentially take advantage of exporters, especially those dealing in horticultural produce, thereby cutting into profits. This in itself is a big hurrah for the exports industry.
Economically, Kenya also further stands to gain from leveraging on the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act to improve our balance of trade.
This is also a great opportunity for the hospitality industry to entice itself to more Americans, thereby increasing tourist traffic from that corner of the world. As it stands, Kenya has a lot to offer in terms of tourism and most of the attractions may appeal greatly to Americans. For JKIA to be granted Category One status, means that travel has been made easier, making it more convenient for tourists by extension. It is now up to the movers and shakers in the hospitality industry to make it appealing for tourists to visit, by aggressively marketing Kenya as a premier tourist destination.
What needs to be done now?
Getting the Category One status is a huge coup for Kenya. However, a lot is still yet to be done by both the government and private stakeholders in the region, to make sure that the benefits are felt on the economy.
The National carrier Kenya Airways, for instance, needs to get its house in order for it to be able to strike out as one of the leaders of travel to this new direct route. This means that the recent leadership and financial troubles have to be sorted out. Kenya Airways also have to become inventive and create partnerships to take advantage of this opportunity and compete with its rivals in the region.
Americans have been known to take travel advisories and safety warnings very seriously especially when it comes to visiting foreign countries in Africa and the Middle East. The government must, therefore, pull up its hypothetical socks and strive to improve security in the region considerably. This may include offering tighter security at the airports and the country at large in order to avoid a repeat of travel advisories which have previously impacted negatively on the tourism sector.
Private stakeholders in the tourism sectors and beyond must also act fast to take advantage of the opportunities that have opened up in both tourism and trade. This means that they come up with packages and trade incentives that appeal to the American market and market them aggressively and creatively.
A lot is yet to be done for the implications of the raising of JKIA to Category One status to be felt economically in the country. This, however, is a chance for Kenya to act quickly in order to reap from the benefits. Whether the full range of benefits shall be exploited is yet to be seen. Only time will tell.