The unexpected cancellation of the Delta Airlines flights from Atlanta to Nairobi last Wednesday caused angry reactions amongst tourism stakeholders in Nairobi. One well placed source in regular contact with this column in fact spoke on condition of remaining unnamed of ‘the most severe and yet most concealed (anti) travel advisory of recent times’ when apparently the Department of Homeland Security either withdrew or withheld at the last moment the clearances given or promised previously to Delta.
It is understood that the Kenyan government had taken specific action to improve airport and perimeter security at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, following an inspection of the facilities and area some weeks ago by American security and aviation personnel. A Delta staff from Nairobi also mentioned on condition of anonymity that they were caught unaware of the development until at the last moment their offices in the US informed them of the cancellation. The same staff also insisted that the airline had been fully committed to commencing flights, had good pre-bookings for future flights and contracts for regular cargo shipments both ways, and that it was a US government decision which blocked them. In conclusion the staff added that while BA, KLM, Emirates, SN, SAA, Swiss and other world class airlines continued to fly into Nairobi, the US government may have been misled or misinformed and over reacted or have a hidden agenda.
Undoubtedly has the sudden development put a dent into political relations between the two countries, with Kenya rightly upset over the clandestine manner in which the decision was made and then sprung on them. Kenyan exporters but more important the Kenyan tourism sector had invested in marketing their products and services tailored around the expected Delta flights and will now be left alone to ponder the broken pieces of their efforts and how to react to the situation. The US is an important market for visitors to Kenya’s and in fact the entire region’s game parks and the Kenya Tourist Board and key stakeholders will have to put their thinking caps on and strategize in coming days about damage limitation and how best to circumnavigate this latest hurdle placed in their way to economic recovery. All the best therefore to the Kenyan tourism fraternity and mega barbs for the bureaucrats and faceless security personnel in the US responsible for this grotesque decision.