He added that there is increasing competition from Tanzania which has made “great strides” in its tourism industry.
“They tend to take some of the tourism away from us, particularly if Kenya is perceived to have security concerns. It takes people a lot of convincing especially if they have got their family and they see these horrendous pictures on the news. Even if it is an isolated incident, the perception is always different.”
While there have been several accidents involving light aircraft in Kenya in recent years, Watts downplayed its effect on business.
“I feel much safer in the air than on the roads,” he said. “Flying is definitely safer than our roads and matatus (public transport vehicles). Kenya generally has a good safety record but maybe there is possibly a few fringe operators and private pilots that aren’t very experienced and may have a problem from time to time.”
He noted that there are increased efforts to improve safety, maintenance and training in the aviation industry in Africa. However, West African countries still lag behind in good oversight, he said.
“People look at Africa almost as a country and that is not accurate. Regionally Africa has a bad reputation in terms of worldwide levels of safety, but if you put that into context, [the accidents] are still very few. Some of the poor countries or less developed regions, because of the competition, operate very cheap, old Russian or European aircraft,” he said. “Aircraft that perhaps wouldn’t still be flying in the West, are still flying in Africa.”
Good business sense
Watts advised businesspeople to look at investing in the aviation industry but “with caution” and a long-term approach.
“You should not do it on a shoestring; buy a cheap second hand aircraft that you can’t maintain properly,” said Watts. “Unfortunately, aviation has a kind of thing where if you have one plane people assume you must have a lot of money. You would probably make more money opening a shop or bar somewhere. It’s a long-term industry.
“You should be very conservative. Do not borrow too much money and ensure that everybody is properly trained. In aviation there are no shortcuts. You have to wait until a pilot is properly trained. Our lives are constantly focused on maintaining a level of safety and security.”
In recognition of the increasing demand for air charter services and the growth of the industry, Watts said Boskovic Air is gradually expanding its business and acquiring new aircraft.
He advised other business leaders and entrepreneurs to have a good understanding of their business, employ qualified people and have a long-term strategy.
“When starting a business, look at the long-term gains, not what you can make in one year. Reinvest any surplus you get and prepare for rainy days; they do come.”