Life in Kenya's tropical island hangs in the balance after popular airline suspends flights days to peak season
Already cancellation of hotel bookings has been experienced, dealing a major blow to tourism in the archipelago.
A peaceful tropical island where life is lived at its own relaxed rhythm, a place whose history is as mysterious and fascinating as the winding streets of its medieval stone town, Lamu attracts millions of tourists every year.
Getting to the tropical island before the peak season officially kicks in may not be that simple, however.
Low-cost airline Jambojet one of the major airlines operating flights between Nairobi and Lamu has suspended flights to the island, threatening the very economy of the town which depends on tourism.
Jambojet CEO Willem Hondius says the carrier stopped its flights to Lamu last week, over the town’s Airport's poor condition.
The airline boss said the apron, taxiway and runway at Manda Airport was in bad shape, making it difficult for aircraft to land or take off.
“Manda Airport’s apron and taxiway had deteriorated to such an extent that we could no longer operate our aircraft on the route,” he said.
To add onto Lamu’s woes the Airport services were not the best.
“Apparently, even the runway was in bad condition. The airport’s services were not good enough and that’s why we suspended our flights.” He added.
The suspension could not have come at a worse time, just days away before the tourism peak season kicks in, life in Lamu hangs in the balance.
Furthermore, hotels in Lamu were expecting to cash in this season after some Western countries lifted travel advisories last year.
The county’s tourism director, Ali Mohamed, said Jambojet’s suspension of flights to Lamu was a major blow to tourism in the archipelago.
“Jambojet was popular because it’s a budget carrier and also had larger seat capacity compared to other operators,” he said.
As a result of Jambojet’s suspension of flights, major cancellation of hotel bookings just before the high tourist season begins next week was experienced.
Mr. Mohamed has called on the Kenya Airports Authority to quickly rehabilitate the airport to enable aircraft land safely at Manda Airport.
A KAA official, who wished to remain anonymous, told a local daily, the authority would soon rehabilitate the airport’s infrastructure for smooth aircraft operations.
For now, until Jambojet resumes its flight's tourists flying to Lamu have to contend with smaller and erratic airplanes.
Some of the local airlines still operating between Nairobi and Lamu include; fly540, Air Kenya, Safarilink, Skyward Express and SAX.
JamboJet has announced they will resume their flights once the challenges have been addressed.
“We assure our customers that we will make a decision to fly back to Lamu when the Kenya Airports Authority improves the facility,” the Jambojet chief executive said.
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