Written by June Crawford, CEO BARSA

Rising demand for air travel, both within Southern Africa, and from international markets to South Africa, has seen significant developments for the country’s aviation sector this year, as airlines increase their route network and frequencies to several South African gateways.

And it would seem that Africa too is benefiting from this increased demand as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is reporting a strong upward trend in demand for African airlines and increased capacity of 7.4% in June 2016 after stagnant results in 2015.

Among those airlines announcing new routes, or expanded frequencies to South Africa’s Cape Town and Durban hubs over the past year are Turkish Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Qatar, Emirates, British Airways and Lufthansa. Johannesburg meanwhile will see flights operated by Iberia to Spain, while LATAM will connect South Africa with the South American continent, the latter new to South Africa.

And that’s not to mention the increase in domestic and regional networks, especially new entrants, operating services to less-popular destinations such as Johannesburg to Mthatha, and Cape Town to Windhoek.

Tourism and aviation intrinsically linked

As inbound tourist arrivals rise with the growing competitiveness of South Africa, tourism is inextricably linked to the aviation industry. The expansion of international and domestic airline carriers operating in South Africa has meant airport expansion, the growth of new hubs in South Africa, and in turn contributed positively to the national GDP.

The increase of international airlines into South Africa bodes well for tourism especially since the growth in tourist arrivals from 2012 to 2016 to South Africa was not as high as it could have been for several reasons.

As inbound travellers flock to South Africa with the current favourable rate of exchange, the destination is under pressure to leverage this growing interest, so that it is easy for travellers to visit the destination. Regulatory environments need to be conducive to people coming into the country and less onerous than they currently are.

For example, international airlines need a Foreign Operator’s Permit to fly to South Africa. This is a joint requirement between the Department of Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority, and it can take quite some time to obtain. This process could be fast-tracked and streamlined to ensure an easier operating environment for inbound airlines and subsequent growth in tourists from international source markets.

A culture of consultation to drive aviation success

Globally, aviation and aviation-related tourism delivers US$2.7 trillion in economic impact and supports some 62.7 million worldwide, which is why IATA believes it is vital for governments to recognise and support aviation’s ability to contribute to global economic well-being and better understanding across cultural and political borders.

A local example of this is a new initiative by WESGRO, the official tourism, trade and investment promotion agency in the Western Cape, which is driving interest in Cape Town proactively among the aviation sector in partnership with Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDAT) and City of Cape Town.

WESGRO’s new Airlift Strategy, aimed at creating sustainable routes on selected markets, should be regarded as a catalyst in creating other route hubs across South Africa, as well as be regarded as an example of how to establish a culture of consultation among key players in the tourism industry, from airlines to immigration and even the South African Revenue Service (SARS). The entire value chain needs to be involved to contribute positively to tourism and the national GDP.

The value chain that is linked to the airline industry is also of utmost importance. Airlines, ground staff, the Airports Company and Immigration need to communicate and collaborate to facilitate passenger travel, a key focus for the Board of Airline Representatives South Africa (BARSA), which interacts with various government departments, including the Departments of Tourism regarding visa regulations and congestion at airports for passengers at arrivals and departures, for example.

It is only through a collaborative approach across the value chain and involving all stakeholders, including the African and International airlines represented by BARSA, that South Africa can enhance its status as a world-class and sought-after tourism destination.