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Air traffic through JKIA rebounds to near pre-pandemic levels

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By Steve Umidha

Airline traffic through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) recovered by 53 percent of pre-pandemic levels last year, according to figures published by the government’s statistics office.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data in its 2022 Economic Survey, shows that the number of passengers handled at Kenyan airports predominantly through JKIA, significantly rose from 6.7million passengers in 2021 to 10.2million passengers in 2022.

The number of international passengers handled at Kenya airports increased by 80.4 percent to 5.2 million last year.

Similarly, passenger traffic through East Africa’s largest airport increased by 65 percent from 3.9million thousand passengers in 2021 to 6.5million passengers in 2022, while Moi International Airport and other airports’ passenger traffic jumped by 41.9 per cent and 31.3 per cent respectively in the review year.

Airlines lost tens of billions of dollars in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and saw first signs of relief as travel started to return to normal in 2022, with JKIA like most airports not spared.

And with markets like China now reopened, that recovery is set to go on. China is Kenya’s sixth largest source market and accounted for 82,180 and 83,388 arrivals in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Arrival numbers from the Asian market, however, dropped over the pandemic period as the country faced major lockdowns and limited travel restrictions.

Last month’s renewed interline agreement between China Southern Airlines (CZ) and national carrier Kenya Airways (KQ) which was suspended in April 2020, is also expected to not only boost KQ’s balance sheet across Asia and Africa, but also increase tourist numbers between the two nations.

The deal has since restored the connectivity for both airlines’ passengers to points on the respective carriers’ networks via Nairobi, Guangzhou and Shanghai using a single ticket and one baggage policy.

Indeed, the local carrier Thursday announced new changes in its inflight dining experience in its Business Class and Economy Class cabins for specific long and medium haul flights.

“The revamped in-flight experience service targets business class and tray service for economy class, and four long haul international flights, specifically Paris, Amsterdam, New York and London. The new service and menu will debut on the flight to Paris on 1st May and will be subsequently rolled out to the other three routes within the month,” confirmed KQ’s Chief executive Allan Kilavuka.

Tourist arrivals

Last year’s growth in JKIA arrivals also coincided with yet another impressive performance in the tourism industry during the year in which the sector saw the number of international visitor arrivals jump by 76.9 per cent to over 1.5 million visitors in 2022, even though that number remained below the pre-COVID-19 period.

During the year under review, hotel bed-nights occupancy rose by 27.0 per cent to slightly over 7Million from 5.5Million in 2021. Visitors to national parks and game reserves increased by 69.1 per cent to 2.5million in 2022.

Experts expect Kenya’s tourism revenue earnings to more than double in the next four years after it announced USD 2.1 Billion in 2022. It is a huge leap from the $1.16 billion earned a year earlier, when the pandemic was still endemic and travel was limited across the globe.

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