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Source: Daily Telegraph
By Gill Charlton
It came as little surprise this week when Virgin Atlantic announced its withdrawal from Kenya. Last winter – at the height of the tourist season – the airline was reduced to selling return flights to Nairobi for as little as £125 before taxes and charges were added.
Virgin has long struggled to make money on a route dominated by British Airways and Kenya Airways. BA has also made cuts to its service, dropping its second daily flight to Nairobi. Kenya Airways survives by using its Nairobi hub to offer tour operators attractive prices on multi-centre package holidays in the region.
Last winter saw a fall in tourist arrivals from the UK to Kenya due, in part, to rumours of an imminent terrorist attack in Nairobi (which did not happen) and the abduction of two foreign tourists and the murder of another on the Lamu archipelago. Last week the Foreign Office finally lifted its advisory against travel to Lamu but the damage this has done to the coast’s tourism industry will take years to repair.
Another problem is the ageing hotel stock on the beaches around Mombasa. Those British holidaymakers who can still afford a winter sun holiday are now favouring the new resort hotels and villa complexes found in Thailand, Goa and Zanzibar which have bigger rooms, a choice of dining and the latest spa facilities.
While Kenya’s safari lodges remain the envy of Africa for their diversity of game and warm welcome, the country is also finding it hard to compete on price with holidays based around the self-drive game parks in South Africa and Namibia.
So it’s not surprising that Virgin Atlantic is focusing on its service to Johannesburg where it can sell money-making Upper Class seats to business people and the well-heeled British crowd who fly in for golf, partying and winter sun. Full fare seats on the Nairobi route are largely bought by charity and aid agency staff, many of who have had their travel budgets cut.
Richard Branson says he is “extremely sad to be withdrawing from Kenya”. Let us hope that the withdrawal of the Nairobi service will not lead to the abandonment of the charitable projects Virgin has set up in Kenya over the past five years – even if the staff will now have to fly BA.