Isiolo International Airport unlocks opportunities for Northern Kenya Tourism
Isiolo has a new development that we need to pay close attention to, a brand new — shiny airport. The newest addition to the list of Kenya’s 4 international airports and it is right at the center of Kenya.
The drive to Isiolo takes you through the green and agriculturally rich central highlands , the Laikipia savanna before hitting the scrub land of Northern Meru to Isiolo. Along the way, the economic impact of agriculture and tourism are evident as well as the massive potential for growth once there’s an airport in the vicinity.
The Isiolo International Airport stands on 800 acres of land right on the border of Meru and Isiolo. The project features a 1.4 KM runway, 5,000 M2 terminal building, a 1025 M2 office block, car park for 200 cars, 2KM access road, aprons and VIP road. The project has had 3 phases so far since the works started in 2011 with KES 1.7 Billion already spent.
The investment in the infrastructural works has already created an impressive number of jobs around the airport which has greatly uplifted the small economy of Isiolo. In the short term, there will be 50–100 people working in the airport from different departments. Among them Kenya Revenue Authority, Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, Kenya Police, and Airlines.
Besides its central location, Isiolo International Airport is located in a tourism hotbed. The stretch between Laikipia to Isiolo is home to some of Kenya’s premium lodges, conservancies and parks with no less than 5 well known parks in close vicinity. To the south of the airport, we have Lewa and Borana Conservancies as well as Ngare Ndare Forest, to the North, we have Nyambene, Shaba and Buffalo Springs National Reserves as well as the Samburu National Park.
Without doubt, the Airport become a new gateway to the tourist attractions around Isiolo, Samburu, Laikipia. It opens up the possibility for a Nairobi — Isiolo route with connections to the rest of the destinations such as the Mara and the Kenyan Coast.
Isiolo can become the launchpad to Northern Kenya destinations in Laikipia, Samburu and Marsabit. Travellers can now be at Isiolo Airport in the morning and have early lunch inside the Marsabit National Park, one of the most unique places in Kenya. Cross the Chalbi desert via North Horr in the afternoon and be at Loiyangalani on the shores of Lake Turkana by dusk.
The airport also brings the Southern shore of Lake Turkana closer if one takes the road to from Isiolo to Loiyangalani via Laisamis. Creative tour operators will have a field day opening up the Northern circuit using Isiolo International Airport as a base.
After the Mara, the area around the Ewaso Nyiro is one of the best places to view game. I rate it higher because of the spectacular landscapes and the feeling of absolute wilderness. In addition, the area is home to some uniques species such Gerenuk, reticulated giraffe, somali ostrich, grevy’s zebra, beisa oryx, striped hyena,civet cat and wild dog.
In addition, some of the unique attractions in the area like Westgate Conservancy, its neighbouring Namunyak Conservancy and Sibiloi National Reserve further North may begin to thrive once tourists can access them without needing long day trips. The tourism potential of the whole area easily surpasses that of the Mara ecosystem but has been hampered by distance and lack of infrastructure.
According to KCAA CEO Fred Lundgren, Isiolo International Airport has capacity to handle 500,000 passengers per year. The potential for tourism just from this Airport is anywhere between 20,000 to 35,000 visitors a month. Numbers that would create hundreds of jobs inside the airport and around around Isiolo.
In the coming months, Kenya Airports Authority should authorise the use of Isiolo International Airport for domestic and international flights.
By Njoroge “Njooro” Nguru