Colin Nagy, head of strategy at FFNY, a global advertising agency, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality, innovation, and business travel. On Experience dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across hospitality, aviation, and beyond. You can read all of his columns here.
For African tourism to be truly successful, it must move travelers from North America (and beyond) into a mindset that a visit isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime type of trip. Rather, it is something that can be done as painlessly as possible (replete with various cost options on the ground) and something travelers want to repeat year after year.
To-date, East Africa has been difficult to reach from North America. While Europe and the Middle East, and, in some cases, Asia, benefit from semi-reasonable flight times, getting to East Africa from the U.S. is a slog.
Sure, there are the well worn direct routes to South Africa, as well as Delta’s direct to the West Coast with Senegal and Ethiopian Airlines’ Dulles to Addis flight. But most trips require spinning through London, Paris, or the Middle East, and eating a travel day in the process of connecting unless you play your cards perfectly. Kissing a hard-earned vacation day goodbye in the slipstream of transit is not optimal.
This is due to change for the better starting this week, with the introduction of Kenya Airways direct flight from JFK to Nairobi. The new route was not without its drama as Kenya Airways’ workers threatened to strike before the flight on contract issues before the airlines received a temporary injunction barring unions members from walking out.
The new flight, positioned as both a business and tourism thoroughfare, will operate daily with flight times optimized for ease. KQ002 Nairobi to New York departs 11:25 p.m., arriving at 6:25 a.m. the next day. KQ003 New York to Nairobi departs 12:25 p.m., arriving 10:55 a.m. the next day.
The Skyteam affiliated planes will be Boeing 787s that are optimized for passenger comfort, with higher humidity and lower cabin pressure. And by removing a step or connection, it makes it easier for people to get to what they want with minimal friction (and less mishandled baggage at far-flung connections — losing that new Ex Officio gear bought with REI points is a surefire Safari killer).
This is good news not just for Safari operators looking to build their businesses, but also the Kenyan economy as a whole.
Mikey Carr-Hartley, the owner of The Safari Collection (which owns Giraffe Manor, Sala’s Camp, Solio Lodge and Sasaab in Kenya), told Skift in an email: “The direct flight from NYC to Nairobi is a game changer for East African tourism. It cuts the journey time by at least three to six hours as many of our clients travel via London or the Middle East and means that Kenya will be easier to reach for the U.S. traveler than ever before
“It’s already been a record year for Kenya and for our lodges and this additional route launch is a huge vote of confidence for the country as a whole and what we offer to travelers,” he continued.
The direct flight will substantially boost Kenya’s global profile as a tourism destination, but will also benefit other local nations that are striving to build their tourism business. There are plenty that is promising but need an additional push to realize their potential. Notably, Zimbabwe, despite recent political instability and currency concerns, has a growing tourism economy and incredibly successful conservation efforts, as well as Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda, among others.
“Improved access is a natural accelerant in terms of investment and venture capital…more visibility from this route will bring more business opportunities,” said Leena Gehlot, director of KG Group, a group of companies in Kenya operating in construction infrastructure, hospitality, and the medical industry.