The tourism industry is betting heavily on the country’s achievement of Category One status, paving the way for direct flights to America.
The industry is also counting on the direct flights for more American investments in Kenya.
Following the achievement, a US transport safety team is expected in the country in May to assess the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi.
The sector regulator, Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, says direct flights could begin before the end of the year. Director General Gilbert Kibe told NTV News on Thursday that the six-year journey to Category One status could end by Christmas. He expects the last clearance to be given to JKIA before the dream becomes a reality.
Last week, Kenya was granted Category One status by the US government following an audit by the Federation Administration Aviation and other US agencies.
National flag carrier Kenya Airways is required to apply for an Air Operator Certificate from the US for it to be granted approval for direct flights. It must also enter into a codeshare agreement with a US airline.
The Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers chief executive Mike Macharia said the country’s achievement of Category One status was a milestone for tourism.
“When direct flights between Kenya and US become a reality, we expect America to remain our number one market,” he said.
Last year, the US emerged as Kenya’s top source market after overtaking the United Kingdom, which for years had been the country’s leading source.
Arrivals from the US to Kenya rose to 97,883 last year, up from 84,759 in 2015 while the UK market had 96,404 arrivals, down from 98,523 in 2015.
International tourist arrivals by air and sea increased by 16.7 per cent to 877,602 from January to December last year, compared with the previous period.
Kenya Coast Tourism Association chairman Mohamed Hersi said the US nod was a step in the right direction. “Over the years, we had been lobbying the government to work out ways of attaining Category One status to enable our flag carrier to operate direct flights to the US,” he said.
Mr Hersi, who is also the chief executive officer of Heritage Hotels, said commencement of direct flights would boost tourist numbers from America.
“Americans are high-end tourists. We expect the direct flights to bring more US tourists and boost our economy,” he said.
Cultural destinations such as Lamu, he noted, could also attract US visitors. Apart from the US market, Mr Hersi said direct flights would attract tourists from South America.
He said the new air connectivity would motivate Americans to invest more in the country.
Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers Coast branch executive Sam Ikwaye said: “Security has been a matter of concern for some international tourist markets. That the US has granted Kenya Category One status means security has improved”.
Direct flights to the US will also benefit Kenya’s neighbours, mainly Uganda and Rwanda.
“The three countries operate a single tourist visa. American tourists will get an opportunity to visit these countries, too,” he said.
The Kenya Association of Tour Operators, Coast branch chair, Ms Monika Solanki, was also upbeat about the direct flights.