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SA tourism faces huge African competition

Dec 18 2016 06:03
Aldi Schoeman

Johannesburg - South Africa is no longer like the eldest child who gets all the attention from tourists visiting Africa – there are brothers and sisters also demanding their turn.

Mmatsatsi Ramawela, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of SA, said: “Africa is awakening, and that means South Africa has more competitors than before.”

East Africa is growing at a more rapid rate than the rest of the continent, and is becoming an increasingly attractive tourist destination, according to the International Monetary Fund.

According to statistics from Airports Company SA, the number of passengers using Cape Town International Airport this year has grown by 6.2%.

At King Shaka in Durban, the growth was 9%, but at OR Tambo in Johannesburg, it was only 2.7%.

King Shaka opened its doors in May 2010 and cost R6.8 billion to build.

Growth at OR Tambo is, however, from a higher base – the airport processed nearly 20.4 million passengers last year, compared with 9.6 million in Cape Town and 2.1 million at King Shaka.

The number of overseas passengers stopping over in South Africa while on their way to other destinations declined by 7.5% from September last year to September this year, according to the latest figures from Stats SA.

Cape Town would this year process 10 million visitors for the first time, said Chris Zweigenthal, CEO of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa.

Ramawela said various countries in east Africa were strengthening their tourism offering. “Important meetings take place in Kigali [Rwanda’s capital].”

A new international conference centre was opened there in July.

In May, the city hosted the meeting of the World Economic Forum.

Addis Ababa Bole International Airport in Ethiopia is being expanded and Ethiopian Airlines is seen as one of the most successful airlines on the continent.

Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda have a shared tourism visa – something that would significantly benefit other countries in southern Africa, said Ramawela.

Cape Town and King Shaka’s success is attributed to the addition of flight routes to these cities, among other things.

German airline Lufthansa’s new flight from Cape Town to Frankfurt is the latest.

Emirates has a third daily flight between Cape Town and Dubai, and British Airways has three new flights between Gatwick and Cape Town.

In the last quarter of last year, King Shaka added four flights a week to Ethiopia, four to Qatar, three to Turkey and four to Zambia to its schedule.

Air Namibia has started flying from Windhoek to Gaborone in Botswana, and then to Durban and back, according to Colin Naidoo, a spokesperson for the airport.

Air Namibia flies its Windhoek-Gaborone-Durban schedule four times a week with capacity for 37 passengers and 500kg of cargo.

It is also scheduled to begin a flight to the Seychelles in March.

The international airports in Windhoek and Gabarone would also have played a role in enticing some passengers because there were more direct flights to those airports, said Zweigenthal.

On top of that, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe now has an international airport and Ethiopian Airlines will begin flying there from March.

According to Zweigenthal, Qatar had also indicated that it wanted to begin flying to Victoria Falls.

That said, it’s actually good for everyone if African countries become more popular.

“Africa only has 2.5% of total air traffic in the world, so there are many opportunities for growth,” Zweigenthal said.

But he also said that recent problems with long queues at immigration at OR Tambo and the confusion over unabridged birth certificates that are required when parents travel with their children are holding South Africa back.

“Long queues are a reality everywhere, but what makes people angry is when all the counters are not manned. People are more patient when they see that there are staff members at all the counters.”

He welcomed the announcement by Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba that an additional 255 employees would be deployed during the festive season to help alleviate congestion at border posts.

At OR Tambo, an additional 92 staff members will assist with processing foreign visitors.

Gigaba emphasised that the arrangement was only temporary and that a more sustainable solution would be found after the festive season.

According to the UN’s World Tourism Organisation, international arrivals between January and September have increased by 4% compared with the same time last year.

In Africa, arrivals increased by 8%, while in Europe, arrivals rose by 2%. South America saw an increase of 7%, North America rose by 4%, and Asia and Australia by 9%.

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