One major sign that tourism to Africa is on an upward trajectory is the raft of recent announcements of international flights to the continent, says Graham Boynton
As everyone knows, air links are the lifeblood of modern tourism. The market has been gloomy for some time: South Africa, the continent’s biggest aviation market, continues to report stagnant international passenger numbers. Its national airline, staggering under a mountain of debt, has been forced to cut its prized Cape Town-Heathrow slot and shed partnerships with Etihad and other airlines. Despite this, the broader picture may offer a glimmer of hope for an industry that many believe is not growing fast enough.
Scheduling changes are on-going, but (to name but a few) British Airways will begin direct flights from Gatwick to Cape Town in November, adding to its established twice-daily flights out of Heathrow. Abu Dhabi’s Etihad has started a daily service between Abu Dhabi and Dar es Salaam, and Qatar Airways has announced routes to six new African destinations, starting with Marrakech in July, Windhoek in September, the Seychelles in December and Cameroon, Gabon and Zambia next year.
The third Gulf airline, Emirates, has long been committed to Africa and currently operates more than 370 flights a week between Dubai and 27 cities. According to an Emirates spokesman, the airline “has a strategic focus on Africa and we see it as a very important anchor of our future network”.
This show of international support and faith in Africa’s future must be accompanied by the internal links, which have been so lacking in the past. With more than a billion people in Africa and just 3% of the world’s aviation business, it is clear, as fastjet’s former CEO Ed Winter observes, “that the continent remains in desperate need of improved and affordable aviation connectivity”.
The new Airlink service between Cape Town and Maun, launched in March, is a good sign, and many look forward with anticipation to the expected traffic growth at Zimbabwe’s new Victoria Falls Airport. The Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe is apparently in talks with six international airlines and it is just a matter of time before this outstanding new airport becomes a massive regional hub drawing in international travellers from all over the world.
The future seems bright for African tourism, and we are now waiting for the next tranche of air connections to fulfil their promises. We shall see.
Graham Boynton has written for numerous newspapers and magazines, including Vanity Fair, Esquire and Condé Nast Traveller, and was the travel editor of The Daily and Sunday Telegraph between 1998 and 2012. A regular visitor to Africa, where he grew up, his current consultancies include work as media director for the African Travel & Tourism Association (Atta). The views expressed in this column are his own.