Despite a lack of fanfare, the recent lifting of all safety regulations pertaining to Covid came as a welcome surprise to travellers eyeing South Africa for a summer holiday.
Here’s how the airline industry is preparing for a solid summer season.
Thanks to its mild southern hemisphere climate, South Africa is an excellent destination for travellers wanting to escape cold northern winters as well as locals hankering after a summer getaway. According to the Tourism Business Council of SA, this bodes well for the long-suffering tourist industry, as international travellers gear up for a return to sunny SA.
Can the domestic flight sector cope with demand?
International travellers now face fewer barriers regarding arriving in South Africa, but the elephant in the room remains a decided lack of domestic flights to carry them onward from major international airports.
With most international arrivals entering the country at OR Tambo and Cape Town International airports, will a decline in available domestic seats exclude major tourist destinations like Mpumalanga and Limpopo from the picture?
According to Airlink CEO, Rodger Foster, tourists will find no shortage of flights available for all the usual domestic routes and more. Foster argues that South Africa had an oversupply of flights during off-peak seasons to begin with.
While no number of flights will every satisfy the huge demand over busy times like Easter weekend or December holiday period, there are still plenty to go around during other times of the year.
Despite the fluctuating fortunes of various airlines in the last year, passengers were still able to get where they needed to go.
So, while a 40% loss of available flights will have some impact, the industry must now focus on creating more sustainable and affordable solutions for domestic air travel.
Even without these new flights South Africa’s aviation industry has managed to deliver despite the absences of Comair and SAA as well as the demise of Mango Airlines. The domestic market has already recovered to around 70% of pre-pandemic levels.
What’s new for South African air travel?
Airlink is currently engaged in fostering codeshare agreements with Qatar Airways to expand its South African operations.
Thanks to this, travellers will enjoy improved access to destinations like Hoedspruit, Skukuza, George, Gqeberha, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. In addition, travellers will enjoy attractive offers to Dallas, New York, London, Copenhagen, and Barcelona.
SAA and Kenya Airways have also formed a partnership with a view to creating a Pan-African airline consolidation that hopes to unlock Africa’s full potential for air connectivity. This mutual cooperation will see the airlines retain their individual identities while scaling their business into unchartered terrain.
FlySafair already has plans afoot to add an extra five aircraft and ten routes across sub-Saharan Africa to fill the gap created by a 9 000 seat decline in availability due to Comair’s demise. This agreement will offer travellers enhanced connectivity with twelve countries and forty-five destinations across southern Africa.
These new destinations include Zanzibar and Victoria Falls, both attractive add-on destinations for South African tourists.
SAA is still smarting after a year of business rescue proceedings, but the new owners are confident that they can make the most of the airline’s potential. So, while SAA is taking things slowly at first, it does intend to add capacity between Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban.
While the industry may initially see bottlenecks due to fewer seats available, easing of restrictions, and increasing demand for seats, most of those involved feel positive that things will normalise in time.
A way forward for SA air travel
Increased demand is never a terrible thing in business and slow, considered growth is perhaps exactly what the South African airline industry needs after the pandemic.
Once again, unless they can cope with demand-driven high prices, travellers need to consider flexibility in their travel dates, and plan well ahead to ensure their needs are met. In this way, both the domestic and international tourist industries will benefit.
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