Jinit Shah, chief executive of Xtreme Adventures Limited is convinced there is a sizeable but largely untapped market for luxury travel in Kenya.
All it requires, he says, is a deep pocketed investor willing to purchase and park private jets at the country’s airports and loads of marketing – his forte.
Mr Shah founded the company in 2004, initially providing overland safaris across the African continent, from Egypt to South Africa and back. Two years into it, he shifted gears and moved into the airline industry as a broker, chartering and leasing aircraft.
Executive jets now comprise 50 per cent of their business. A typical jet is a 100-seater plane converted into a 19-seater with spacious all leather interiors, seats that recline, sofas and rotatable tables.
“Clients can have business meetings en-route to their destination, shower, sleep, have cocktails or whatever else tickles their fancy, in complete privacy unlike in a commercial jet,” says Mr Shah.
The other 50 per cent of the company’s business comes from turbo propelled aircraft that can land in any airstrip in Africa.
Their clients are mostly C-level executives (CEOs, CFOs) in blue chip companies, non-government political institutions and lobby groups who want to fly their executives in and out for meetings or field trips in Sudan, Chad, Congo and Central Africa, the most popular destinations.
Xtreme Adventures sources the aircraft it leases from owners in South Africa, Mauritius and Dubai.
“Kenya has only one executive aircraft which is run by Fly540,” he says.
Currently, demand is highest for 5-seater aircraft. Asked why Kenya doesn’t have more executive jets he says, “They’re very expensive to purchase and it’s a risk to convert into income because our market is still very small. We are trying to educate the market that this kind of a product exists. In Kenya only Emirates Airline has a true standard of first class. The rest have business class. So the market is still new to this kind of product.”
He believes with more marketing, more people will opt for this type of travel because of the convenience it offers compared to commercial jets.
“Let’s say a CEO needs to go to Nigeria. He is tied to the Kenya Airways schedule and often gets flights that are not convenient where he ends up wasting whole days. With our service you fly back and forth whenever you want so it saves on travel time. We’ve now introduced co-sharing where executives of different companies going to the same destination can share the same flight and split the costs,” Mr Shah explains.
The cost of hiring an executive jet depends on the destination. For instance, travel that is four hours from Nairobi costs around $7,000 per hour (Sh644,000). Their clients fly from Wilson Airport in Nairobi.
A key challenge is getting high capacity aircraft capable of flying clients to the USA or Europe. Their current suppliers don’t have such aircraft.
“For a flight to New York, I’d have to source an aircraft from Singapore and bring it here which would cost too much. If a client wanted to transport 100 people for a function in Lamu we can provide an aircraft for that, but any more than that and I’d have to recommend he takes two aircraft. This has limited our growth.”
Another challenge is lack of a proper VIP area at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with world class restaurants and lounges.