The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has urged the Kenyan government to use all mechanisms at its disposal to encourage air travel, including reductions in COVID-19 test charges.
“Kenya’s air transport recovery is stalling and requires ongoing support. Among the interventions, we are urging Kenya’s government to reduce the cost of PCR tests for travelers, which, at roughly US$80 each, is significantly higher than the average in Africa,” said Kamil Al Awadhi, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Africa and Middle East.
“The high cost of tests has become a major deterrent and a drag on the recovery of Kenya’s air transport and tourism sectors. An alternative solution would be to permit the use of more cost-effective antigen tests,” he added.
Airline passenger traffic to, from and within Kenya fell by 52% in June 2021 vs June 2019. The picture was similar for the first half of 2021, with passenger volumes having declined by 54.2% as compared to the first half of 2019. The next two years should see stronger recovery as Kenya’s vaccination rate improves and more countries reopen their borders to the country.
Key priorities to support and sustain the recovery of Kenya’s air transport and tourism sectors include:
- Reducing COVID-19 test fees: Expensive charges and inconsistent requirements for PCR tests undermine confidence in air travel. Affordable tests will prompt more people to travel by air again. According to IATA’s latest passenger survey, 86% of respondents are willing to get tested. But 70% also believe that the cost of testing is a significant barrier to travel, while 78% believe governments should bear the cost of mandatory testing.
- Digitalization of health certificates: As passenger numbers increase in the recovery, digitally managing travel health credentials will be essential to avoid queuing and crowding airports. The IATA Travel Pass and the African Union’s Trusted Travel Pass are both tools that can help governments efficiently and conveniently verify traveler health credentials.
- Increasing intra-Africa connectivity: Pre-pandemic, African Union’s Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) was intended to unlock travel within the continent. Post-pandemic it will provide an even more important economic boost. Full implementation of SAATM across the continent would generate significant economic benefits for Kenya, namely creating 39,000 new jobs and adding US$201 million to the country’s GDP.
Equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines
With low vaccination rates across Africa, the continent and its people are vulnerable and the economic recovery from COVID-19 is at risk. Moreover, with more countries lifting travel restrictions for those vaccinated, the freedom of movement will be limited until vaccines are universally available. With 1.6% of Kenya’s population fully vaccinated, the challenge is particularly acute.
“Nations, governments, politicians, and business must cooperate through COVAX so that everyone gets access to the vaccines they require, no matter where they are,” said Alawadhi.
Air transport holds significant economic and social importance to Kenya. Prior to the pandemic, US$3.1 billion of its GDP was attributable to its aviation sector, which employed 26,000 people and supported over 525,000 jobs in the wider economy.
At the peak of the Covid crisis, air connectivity (i.e. the number of routes and the frequency with which they are served) to, from and within Kenya, fell by 91% compared to 2019, as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions. Although part of the connectivity has since been restored, it was still 45% below pre-crisis levels at the beginning of this month. Similarly, the number of routes are still 26% below pre-crisis levels, limiting options for international and local travel.
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