Kenya Airways sets sights on Middle East expansion

Kenya Airways General Manager for the Middle East and Asia, Alphonse Kioko, spoke to JONNA SIMON about his airline's plans in the region.
Kenya Airways has increased its flights to the region.

Q: How important is Dubai for Kenya Airways?

A: Dubai is very important to Kenya Airways and that is the reason we have increased our flights from Nairobi from initially two to seven and now to ten flights a week.

Q: Is Kenya Airways aiming at the business, vacation or other type of traffic?

A: From Nairobi and from Africa in general, the majority of our passengers come to Dubai to shop. Of late, we have seen quite a few passengers coming to Dubai as tourists and, for instance, desert safaris have become very popular among our clients.

Some travellers also come to Dubai looking for business partners, as the ties between the two countries are quite strong. From Dubai, we mainly carry tourists to Kenya, which is a popular holiday destinations. We offer many tours and safaris to various parts of Kenya at very competitive prices. Nairobi is a hub in Africa and Kenya Airways sends much of the traffic to other areas of Africa, as we have an excellent network on the African continent.

Q: Does the Dubai shopping Festival (DSF) bring you more business?

A: Yes it does. This year, we had a Kenyan pavilion in the Global Village during DSF, which attracted many visitors not only from Nairobi but beyond. During DSF we also offer various discounts, which naturally also attracts more travellers.

Q: What are the busiest times of the year for the airline?

A: We mainly distinguish between two seasons, summer and winter. For Dubai, our peak is between May and August, when it is so very hot in the UAE and many people go to Kenya and other areas of Africa during this period. The Xmas period and the Eid holidays also increase our traffic and we tailor different vacation packages to the various needs of our passengers.

Q: Does cargo play an important role in contributing to the yearly revenue of the airline?

A: Cargo does play an important role; it constitutes between 10 and 12 per cent of our yearly revenue and we have a cargo division of the airline based fn Dubai.

Q: How has Kenya Airways fared since 9/11?

A: Initially we were slightly influenced by the tragedies in the USA, because of passengers' general fear of flying after the attacks in New York and Washington. However, we do not fly to North America, so we were not overly influenced by the drop in passenger traffic.

Q: Does Kenya Airways have plans for expansion this year?

A: Yes, we have plans for new destinations this year. By June, we are increasing our services to Delhi from four a week to daily flights. We have already increased our services to Dubai from seven to ten a week and from June 9 we also begin operations to Bangkok and Hong Kong.

Q: Is Kenya Airways investing in new aircraft this year?

A: Kenya Airways is known for being the airline with the youngest fleet in Africa. We recently took delivery of seven Boeing 737 aircraft destined for the shuttle traffic in Africa and in 2004, we will take delivery of four Boeing 777 planes. Our fleet today consists exclusively of Boeing aircraft.

Q: Which is the most popular tourist destination in Kenya?

A. I would say the Masai Mara is the most popular game park in Kenya and it is famous all over the world. Visitors do not have to struggle to encounter the big five - lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, buffalo - they live in the Masai Mara in plenty. Nature has not been interfered with and people from all over the world come to visit our game parks.

Q: Do you take passengers from Dubai beyond Kenya to Uganda, Tanzania or South Africa for instance?

A: We have the largest network on the African continent. Our flights from Dubai arrive in the morning between 6 and l and we offer connections to many destinations in Africa.

Kenya Airways also operates flights to Europe, daily to London Heathrow and twice a day to Amsterdam. We have a partnership with KLM.

Q: How would you describe the unique selling points of your airline?

A: We have a very new and young fleet. Kenyans are warm and friendly people, which is a big plus for the airline. The cabin crew is very welcoming and helpful. We take the comfort of our passengers very seriously. If a passenger has a complaint, he or she will receive a letter of explanation or apology from the managing director.

Q: How would you describe the airline's relationship with travel agents?

A: We have a very good relationship with travel agents. Most of our business here is done via travel agents. Kenya Airways offices in Dubai are not sales offices, but for service of clients.

Q: Is Africa a continent waiting to be discovered? Or do you envisage a period of slow or fast growth?

A: Africa has many attractive points that people could capitalise on. There are still vast areas of the continent that are still to be discovered by a wider audience of the world.