Italian airline cancels charter to Mombasa

While no one can say for certain what ultimately the reasons were for NEOS cancelling their Friday/Saturday rotation to Mombasa from January 16, 2015, at least until the start of the following high se

Italian airline cancels charter to Mombasa

While no one can say for certain what ultimately the reasons were for NEOS cancelling their Friday/Saturday rotation to Mombasa from January 16, 2015, at least until the start of the following high season 2015/16, recent events in Kenya may very well have influenced that decision, robbing the coast of yet another flight at a time when more are needed, not less.

Following the recent meeting of the recovery committee with Mombasa and Malindi-based tourism stakeholders, and the more recent Presidential Investors Round Table, this bit of bad news laid bare some more nerves, already stretched to the breaking point as the prospect of more empty beds during the upcoming high season now looms large.

In days long passed, beds at the Kenya coast were going for a premium over the Christmas and New Year period and thereafter up to Easter, but this year special deals and offers are already making the rounds, trying to induce visitors from Nairobi, upcountry, and as far as Uganda and Rwanda.

“Our travel agent showed us the deals on the market but the airfare element remains high now that Air Uganda no longer flies nonstop to Mombasa. Changing planes in Nairobi is not optimal and the cost of a visa for my family comes to US$250. If they really want our business so badly, they should drop the visa charges for people like us. We lived in Uganda for 8 years now and were only once in Mombasa. The cost of tickets and the added visa cost made sure of that. Now we fly to Dubai where the ticket sells for US$399 return; we need no visa, and we found a perfect resort at a price which brings the overall cost to slightly less than what we would pay for Mombasa,” said an acquaintance from Kampala once again highlighting something often expressed here before, that in order to fully tap into the regional expatriate market, a lot more needs to be done to increase numbers and keep them from flying to South Africa or the Gulf and spend their money there.

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Meanwhile though, coast resort operators are faced with some of the toughest choices they ever had to make, to stay open and struggle against financial losses mounting on them or close and join the growing list of hoteliers who already have or are considering to throw in the towel.

Said a Nairobi-based regular source: “When the president himself takes on the challenge, it is obvious that his ministers failed him. But now that the first two top honchos were sacked, yes sacked, even though that one [referring to David Kimaiyo, former Inspector General of Police] said he retired, there is now space for some more who have failed to perform. It is make or break time for coast tourism now, and if the high season goes down in history as the worst ever, I do not see how much longer after that the hotels can survive. The big expenditure items are utilities, taxes, wages, and servicing bank loans or reduce overdrafts. Failing to settle a single one of them may cause closure, because the taxman will put [on] a padlock; the utility companies cut water and electricity, and the banks are getting very impatient. Add to that the suppliers, many of which now ask for cash payments. Our government has wasted a year and more; nothing the string of committees and experts told them has changed but they have not acted on key issues.”

The loss of yet another charter flight shows how thin the ice now is on which the coast tourism industry has to walk and how security incidents, even when hundreds of kilometers away, impact the perception potential visitors have, prompting them to opt for other destinations, with Egypt making a strong return after a series of government interventions and incentives for the sector helped to turn the fortunes of the tourism industry around.

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