Kenyan officials and business leaders moved quickly to capitalise on the daily non-stop service between New York and Nairobi that was inaugurated on Sunday.
They were joined by a senior Trump administration official and dozens of US potential investors at a conference in Manhattan on “Doing Business in Kenya” sponsored by the US-based Corporate Council on Africa.
The challenge facing Kenya now is to “optimise and utilise the linkages created by this direct flight to create more business, more trade, more investment and, finally, more tourism,” said Mr Kiprono Kittony, the chairman of the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The savings of seven hours’ traveling time afforded by Kenya Airways’ non-stop flight will make a big difference to small- and mid-sized Kenyan businesses, said Ms Carole Kariuki, the chief executive of Kenya Private Sector Alliance.
Perishable goods intended for the US would often spoil en route due to layovers in Europe, she said.
“We’ve talked a lot about, ‘Is this for big business?’ No, it’s about the small businesses — the farmers in Kenya — who are growing the produce and can really access this market finally,” Ms Kariuki said.
Speedy transport’s importance to economic growth was also emphasised by Mr Joel Szabat, an aviation and international affairs official in the US Department of Transportation.
“The benefits of Agoa [African Growth and Opportunity Act] cannot be fully realised without an adequate transportation infrastructure," Mr Szabat said, referring to the US’ preferential trade programme for Africa. "And aviation is at the heart of it.”
Airline bookings to Kenya from the US are up 30 percent in comparison to the same period last year, Mr Szabat said, adding that some of that gain can be attributed to the availability of a non-stop flight.
Mr Szabat touted the Trump administration’s aim of forging close ties with Kenya.
“Our two presidents also resolved to elevate the bilateral relationship to a strategic partnership,” he said.
“They agreed to establish a US-Kenya trade and investment working group to establish ways to deepen the trade and investment ties between our two countries.”
The two countries have concluded or set in motion nearly $1 billion in new business deals in recent months, Mr Szabat said.
Most of the agreements were announced following President Kenyatta’s White House meeting with President Trump in August. Others were reached when members of a US presidential advisory council visited Kenya earlier in the summer.
Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma cited investment opportunities offered by Kenya’s Big Four agenda.
“When we talk about housing, when we talk about manufacturing, when we talk about health care, when we talk about food security — we are talking about viable and bankable projects,” she said.
Ms Juma added that while conferences such as Tuesday’s were worthwhile endeavours, “the purpose of this is to make things happen, and to translate opportunities into real concrete output.”
“It’s very important to remember that we don’t have a lot of time,” she added, referring to the urgency of providing jobs for Kenya’s swelling youth population.
“There’s a lot of pressure, and there’s a lot of young people that ready to go. We just have to do this really quickly.”