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25 July 2017 , 12:38 pm

Harnessing the opportunity of train travel in Kenya. The Madaraka Express

What does it mean for travel agents?

Nairobi’s newest infrastructure, the Standard Gauge Railway (Madaraka Express) makes it easy and convenient for passengers to travel to Mombasa within 4.5hours. Gone are the days of the Lunatic Express, where breakdowns and delays would keep passengers dreaming of their final destination for hours on end.

Madaraka Express

“The SGR has been an important project for the government, as it will improve connectivity in terms of enhancing business in the region and the realization of need for speed in transport. It is hoped that the SGR will boost the tourism industry in the region”.

We recently sat down with Nicanor Sabula, the CEO of the Kenya Association of Travel Agents (KATA) and Chandni Shah, an avid traveller, to find out their experiences with the SGR. Nicanor was one of the Kenyans who made the first ever round trip from Nairobi to Mombasa on the SGR in April 2017. He was invited to join tourism industry stakeholders led by the Tourism Cabinet Secretary Hon. Najib Balala on a pre-launch trip prior to the formal inauguration by the President. Chandni on the other hand, was looking for a long weekend escape out of the city with her family at the beach.

 

Nicanor Sabula, the CEO of KATA

Arriving at the Nairobi terminus, both our travellers were instantly struck by the impressive architecture and modern aesthetic. For Nicanor, he noted that the ambiance and security measures were above and beyond many of the regional airports. Thorough screening checks give travellers piece of mind whilst smiling hostesses are on hand to swiftly point you in the right direction.

 

 

 

Scenic views on the way to Mombasa

Each of the stations along the railway has been themed to represent the diversity of the towns and cultures surrounding; from the V shaped glass station at Voi to the wavy Mombasa Terminus reflecting gentle water ripples. How could a structure nestled on a creek overlooking the magnificent Indian Ocean be this beautiful? Is this reflective of the new Africa Rising movement in Kenya?

Travellers can select from First or Economy Class travel, although both our travellers noted that the only differentiator was in the type of seat. In reality Chandni and Nicanor were disappointed with this. Travel, should be an experience. And those opting to pay a higher premium should get the benefits of dedicated check-in, lounge area and ofcourse superior hospitality offering onboard.

Beautiful infrastructure at the Mombasa terminus

One of the biggest challenges faced by both travellers was accessibility at all stations. For Chandni, the challenge was getting out of the terminal with ease. Trailers blocking the road along the Miritini area, the busy Mombasa port and the ongoing road construction can easily lead to hefty delays and waiting periods.

How can travel agents leverage the SGR experience as a selling tool?

Nicanor emphasizes that numerous opportunities do exist for travel agents. First is providing seamless travel connection to their overseas clients who arrive by air and want to sample ground travel in a safe and secure mode of transport. The beauty that the train journey offers can be sold as an additional experience to travellers.

Second, travel agents offer Kenya Railways a ready additional channel for selling train tickets. Other than travellers making their way to the train station to purchase tickets, the same could be sold through the nearest travel agents. Third and final is the opportunity for travel agents to tap into the growing domestic tourism to sell tours and holidays along the various tourist attractions along the railway line as well as at the Coast.

Boarding area

“If harnessed well, the SGR stands to benefit the tourism industry in Kenya in a massive way. There is no doubt that growth of domestic tourism is on upward trend therefore providing the much-needed lifeline to the industry amidst the dwindling numbers of international tourist.” There is also great possibility that the SGR will open up new tourism products along the railway line therefore offering additional products on offer.

In conclusion, every effort must be made to ensure that Kenyans at all levels tap into and benefits from the opportunities arising from the SGR. Our request as travel agents is that the train booking services are available on the GDS’s to allow for seamless booking of travel as it happens in other markets in the developed world.

 

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This post was written by Amadeus Africa Team

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