The countdown to the historic Kenya Airways inaugural flight from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, USA, has begun in earnest!
Official numbers released by Kenya Airways last month indicated that slightly over 7,000 tickets had been sold on the route so far. It is highly likely that this number represents tickets sold for travel in the first two to three months following the launch on 28th October.
Kenya Airways has confirmed that it will be deploying a Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet with a capacity of 234 seats for their daily flight to New York. Which means that KQ will be able to carry at least 460 passengers every day in both directions. However, this is where matters may get tricky for our national carrier. Mathematically, it will take 15 round trips for KQ to exhaust the current tickets sold in a period of only two weeks! In addition to which, tickets sold are usually flown across longer time periods, sometimes up to months ahead.
This situation therefore leaves KQ in the unenviable position of needing to ensure that it can sustain its daily flights to the US. In short, the airline needs to ramp up the numbers! This is a fact that the CEO and MD of KQ Sebastian Mikosz recently acknowledged at a meeting with members of the Kenya Association of Travel Agents (KATA). It will require concerted efforts and support from local players and Kenyans at large to ensure that KQ remains in the skies across the Atlantic Ocean for a long time to come.
The Kenya air travel market is one of the most competitive and lucrative on the African continent with just about every other major international carrier plying the Nairobi route. Kenya’s attractiveness is hinged on its centrality on the continent which allows for easy connectivity to other regional destinations, as well as the hosting of key multinational businesses and non-profit agencies such as the UN Agencies. Foreign airlines who have enjoyed a near monopoly on the US route are not going to rest easy and allow KQ to nibble away at their chunk of the pie! They are going to stage a ferocious fight back – possibly even using unorthodox strategies – to defend their market share and push KQ out of the way. And this is where local travel agents will need to step in, and step in fast!
Just as in other parts in Africa, Travel Agents in Kenya account for more than 80% of international air travel tickets sold by airlines. The Travel Agent therefore retains the power to influence a traveler’s choice of airline. As the first and last point of contact for many potential travelers, travel agents will thus need to play a critical role in keeping KQ flights in the US skies. It is this power that KQ must draw from to ensure that their flights to the US are sustained. The good news is that the travel agency community in Kenya has already expressed “unequivocal support” to the national carrier in this endeavor.
In order for this venture to succeed however, all parties will need to rally round; the travel agency community will require the support and commitment of local travelers including government agencies and corporates. Even though the policy in government is to use Kenya Airways as the primary carrier for government business, this policy has failed partly due to the inability of government to pay in good time for the air tickets consumed. Many travel agents thus avoid doing business with government due to delayed payments, forcing some to close up shop altogether. What this therefore means is that a lack of government support will deny Kenya Airways the leverage that travel agents afford the national carrier due to the fear of not being paid by government. So in order to sustain Kenya Airways on all its routes, not least the New York route, the government must commit to paying travel agents who book flights on KQ in a timely manner in order to motivate and incentivize them.
For their part, Kenya Airways must work towards improving the incentives they pay to Travel Agents in order to attract increased bookings on the airline. The success of the KQ flights to New York will call for patriotism within the Travel Agency community in order to ensure that this inaugural flight succeeds and opens up more opportunities within the United States. Airlines such as Ethiopian Airways and the rising Rwandair have recorded tremendous success on the continent partly because of the unwavering support they have received from travel agents within their home markets.
All in all therefore, the success of Kenya Airways on this exciting new route will require a collective national pride and a concerted effort by all involved parties, which will demonstrate to the world that Kenya is indeed hungry and ready for business. So let’s all pull together and make this our country’s next success story!