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    Africa's Travel Indaba: Minister urges enhanced air connectivity for tourism growth

    The Business Opportunity Networking Day (BONDay) on 13 May ahead of The Africa's Travel Indaba 2024 witnessed a crucial dialogue on air travel challenges in Africa, with tourism ministers from various African nations brainstorming solutions to enhance air connectivity
    Source: Supplied
    Source: Supplied

    South Africa's Tourism Minister, Patricia de Lille, led the discussion, emphasising tourism's power to fuel economic growth. "Tourism is a powerful engine for economic growth and development, contributing to job creation, infrastructure development and foreign exchange earnings," stated de Lille. She revealed that South Africa welcomed 1.8 million tourists from fellow African countries between January and March 2024, signifying 74.5% of all arrivals.

    However, de Lille acknowledged the hurdles hindering seamless air travel within Africa. These challenges include:

    • Limited infrastructure development in airports across the continent.
    • High operating costs for airlines.
    • Regulatory barriers that complicate air travel procedures.
    • Difficulty for airlines to secure financing for expansion.

    Statistics from the International Air Transport Association (Iata) were presented, highlighting that Africa accounts for a minor share of global air traffic. Furthermore, intra-African travel represents a mere 20% of the continent's total air traffic.

    The importance of collaboration

    The dialogue emphasised the importance of collaboration between various stakeholders. De Lille championed successful public-private partnerships like the one at Skukuza Airport in Kruger National Park, which facilitates tourist influx through Airlink. "The management of the airport brings thousands of visitors through Airlink into the national park," she said, highlighting the partnership's effectiveness. Collaboration on infrastructure development at Hoedspruit Airport was also mentioned as a positive example.

    Furthermore, de Lille advocated for a more unified approach to air access marketing in South Africa. This would involve consolidating the efforts of provincial initiatives like Gauteng Air Access and Durban Direct under a single national strategy. The aim is to present a more cohesive approach to airlines and tourism bodies like the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) and the Board of Airline Representatives of South Africa (Barsa).

    The discussion also explored the positive impact of visa waivers on tourism growth. De Lille cited the success stories of Kenya and South Africa, and Ghana and South Africa, where visa waivers have led to a rise in tourist arrivals alongside increased air capacity. For instance, Ghana witnessed a remarkable 249.4% surge in tourist arrivals from South Africa in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the same period in 2023.

    Looking ahead, de Lille acknowledged the growing importance of emerging markets like China. "As global travel resumes and China's outbound tourism sector flourishes, improved air connectivity within Africa will be vital to capitalizing on this potential," she remarked.

    De Lille emphasised the need for open discussions on:

    • How government policies can better support the growth of the aviation industry while prioritizing safety and efficiency.
    • How Africa can leverage technological advancements like digital booking platforms, biometric security systems, and sustainable aviation fuels to move forward.
    • The impact of airlines' shift towards less capacity and higher load factors on sustainable tourism growth.

    The dialogue concluded with a call for proactive partnerships between governments, airlines, and tourism bodies. This collaborative effort is crucial to address air travel challenges, unlock Africa's tourism potential, and prepare the continent to welcome visitors from a wider range of markets, including the growing giant - China.

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