The standard gauge railway (SGR) passenger service between Nairobi and Mombasa is fully booked ahead of Christmas forcing holiday makers to seek expensive alternatives like roads and air travel.
Kenya Railways Corporation said tickets for the train for most days up to December 24 are fully booked with spaces remaining on a few weekday dates.
This will boost bus owners and airlines like Jambojet and Silverstone as families look to enjoy the holiday in Mombasa and the South Coast.
“We are fully booked over weekends and the days to December 25,” said a Kenya Railways spokesperson.
Airlines have also increased fares from Nairobi to Mombasa with planes fully booked in the days to Christmas day.
Ticket prices for early bookings between December 20 and 24 have doubled on some routes compared to reservations made a month ago while some flights are fully booked for the Christmas period.
This means that Kenyans intending to fly during the festive season will pay more, promising to boost revenues of the carriers which have received a lift from increased tourist arrivals.
Those flying to Mombasa between December 20 and 21 on Jambojet are paying up to Sh13,500, up from about Sh4,000.
Its rival Fly540 has increased fares to Sh11,270 for December 22 flights, up from an average of Sh5,500.
These fares are based on Friday books and they will continue rising as we move closer to Christmas. But fly540 and Jambojet were on Friday fully booked for December 23 flights.
The carriers’ main challenge has been convincing Kenyans to book early, which is vital to the low-cost model.
“Kenyans buy today to travel tomorrow or within two days,” said a Jambojet executive.
The rising air fares triggered the rush for the SGR tickets, which goes for Sh3,000 on first class and Sh1, 000 on economy class coaches.
Kenya Railways has steadily increased coaches on the Nairobi-Mombasa line, since the SGR launch in June 2017, to match rising demand that has denied bus operators new customers.
A train has capacity for 1,260 passengers with 15 economy class and three first class coaches. It also comes with a luggage carrier with a total capacity of 70 tonnes.
The rising number of travellers to the Coast is a boon for hoteliers who expect visitor numbers in the year to December to grow by nearly a fifth. Kenya received 1.47 million tourists last year.