Visitor arrivals at Kenya’s two main airports have dropped to the lowest level in eight years, reflecting how badly the travel industry has been damaged by a spate of terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds.
The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and Mombasa’s Moi International Airport recorded arrivals of 231,038 visitors in the first four months of the year, a 29.4 per cent drop from 2014, says Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data.
The fall in international arrivals comes at a time when Kenya has spent billions of shillings in expansion of airports. This has consequently given JKIA the right capacity for the first time in more than two decades.
At 231,038, the arrivals are the lowest since 2008 when the country emerged from the bloody post-election violence. The arrivals in the first four months of 2008 stood at 181,010.
The drop also reflects the poor performance of the tourism sector, which saw visitor numbers fall 25.4 per cent to 284,313 between January and May.
Tourism is a vital foreign exchange earner for Kenya, but a two-year slump has forced hotels to shut down, cut job numbers and sent the shilling to a three-and-half year low.
The number of visitors from Britain, the biggest tourists source country, fell by 35 per cent to 36,022 in the period. Tourist arrivals from the United States dropped 22 per cent to 30,083.
The drop in arrivals will hurt the earnings of Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) that charges a fee for use of its facilities.
It also dims the outlook for the national carrier, Kenya Airways, which is deep in losses and struggling with cash flow problems, prompting a Ksh4.2 billion ($43 million) bailout from the government that has 29 per cent stake in the carrier.
But the continued drop in arrival numbers has not stopped the government from expanding the airports in the quest to cement Kenya as a regional air transport hub.
Arrivals numbers are expected to start growing from 2017, according a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report.
Kenya has been hit by a series of attacks by Somalia’s Al-Shabaab Islamists in the past two years. More than 400 people have been killed during the same period.
Kenya in May opened the Ksh1.7 billion ($17 million) pre-fabricated Terminal Two at JKIA that can handle 2.5 million passengers – pushing the airport’s capacity to 7.5 million travellers annually.
The airport has in the past struggled to handle more than six million people as its regional importance grew.
Moi International Airport is also being expanded. JKIA was originally built to handle 2.5 million travellers, but surpassed this capacity in the early 1990s.
Last year, Terminal 1 was expanded and KAA is working to build Terminal 3 for nearly Ksh60 billion ($613 million), which will also include a second runway, and will handle 20 million passengers.
Kenya has embarked on major infrastructure projects to make up for decades of under-investment that stunted economic growth.