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Nairobi success whets airline's appetite

Updated: 2016-08-19 09:12
By Edith Mutethya (China Daily Africa)

China Southern Airlines forecasts more expansion in Africa after good results from its code share agreement with Kenya Airways

China Southern Airlines is expressing confidence about expanding to additional African cities as it marks one year since it launched direct flights between Nairobi and Guangzhou in South China's Guangdong province.

The success the company has had with the Nairobi route over the past year has buoyed its expansion strategy in the continent, according to Wu Weijun, general manager of the airline's operation in Kenya.

 Nairobi success whets airline's appetite

China Southern Airlines landed its first flight from Guangzhou at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in August last year. Andrew Wasike / Polaris

Passenger numbers have grown by 70 percent while frequency has increased to three weekly flights since July.

"The increased presence of Chinese enterprises in Kenya has contributed immensely to our passenger numbers," Wu says.

China continues to be Africa's largest trading partner, and annual trade is currently valued in excess of $220 billion.

Wu says the airline is planning to launch another direct flight from either Cairo, Egypt or Lagos, Nigeria to Guangzhou, depending on the volume of passengers and cargo.

The airline launched its first direct air route to Africa in 2014, between Shenzhen in Guangdong and Mauritius and it is using Nairobi as its hub in a effort to expand its network to Africa, through partnership with Kenya Airways.

The two airlines signed a code share agreement in August last year. A code-share agreement is a deal between two or more airlines to list certain flights in a reservation system under each other's names.

"By partnering with Kenya Airways, China Southern's international route network extends from Nairobi to other major cities in the African continent, such as Lusaka, Entebbe and Dar es Salaam," Wu says.

Thomas Omondi, the director of strategy and performance at Kenya Airways, says he sees value and complementarity in the partnership between the two airlines.

"When China Southern Airlines launched a direct flight to Guangzhou last year, critics said the initiative was a business threat to Kenya Airways as it would lose passenger referrals. On the contrary, we are both working on expanding our flight networks by complementing each other," Omondi says.

He notes that Kenya Airways has a wide presence in Africa, hence it doesn't perceive China Southern as a threat. "We understand the African market better than China Southern Airlines who, on the other hand, understands the Asian market better. So we will learn from each other as we look to expanding our flight networks," he adds.

There are also additional benefits. Chinese Ambassador to Kenya Liu Xianfa says: "The launch of direct flights to Guangzhou has opened an avenue for Africans and Chinese to understand each other. It will also see improved trade and cultural ties."

Irungu Nyakera, principal secretary in the Kenyan Ministry of Transport, says China Southern Airlines' entry into the market has helped in building Nairobi as a business hub, with increased visitors from China.

He says the government is in the process of improving Jomo Kenyatta International Airport's capacity to ensure it accommodates more players.

"Over the past three years, we have seen the airport capacity increase from 2.5 million passengers per annum to 7.5 million. We thank China Southern Airlines for helping us build the capacity," Nyakera says.

Wu says China Southern is committed to offering exciting travel experiences in efforts to grow its passenger numbers and revenues.

Juliet Kimani, who has traveled with China Southern several times, says its fares are cheaper than many other airlines. "In my line of work, traveling is inevitable, so comfort and safety are important decision points for me. I also have to keep an eye on my business expenses. That is why I find myself settling for this airline often," she says.

Despite the growth prospects, Wu says security threats in Kenya from al-Shabaab, an al-Qaida affiliate based in Somalia, and disease outbreaks like yellow fever and Ebola in the continent are the main challenges.

The other challenge is a lack of awareness on the part of many Chinese about the many tourist sites and amazing scenery in Kenya. These go far beyond what is best known, the wildebeest migration.

"There is a need for awareness on where to visit and when, to ensure Chinese tourists visit Kenya throughout the year," Wu says.



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