At the AviaDev Africa workshop, hosted in collaboration with the SADC Business Council Tourism Alliance, airline executives emphasised that tourism boards can use market data and industry relationships to persuade airlines of new routes' potential. Despite Africa's vast tourism potential, limited air connectivity restricts growth, with the continent holding only 1.9% of global passenger and cargo traffic. Experts believe tourism boards can drive new airline routes and stimulate economic growth.


“Tourism is more than just leisure; it's a critical economic activity that requires strategic thinking and collaboration across sectors,” said Kojo Bentum-Williams, UN Tourism's senior Africa communications expert.

Sylvain Bosc, former chief commercial officer of SAA and Fastjet, stressed the importance of demonstrating sustained profitability. "Destination marketing organisations (DMOs) must sell a long-term vision highlighting the destination’s growth prospects and economic impact," he said.

"Creative incentives like co-marketing, reducing airline costs, and quantifying passenger volumes can be more powerful than direct subsidies.”
Bosc noted that DMOs need to "bring new light" to data airlines already have by offering insights into upcoming local economic developments like new mines or infrastructure projects that could drive corporate traffic. “Local insights can give airlines the confidence they need to invest in new routes," he said.

Aviation's role in regional development

Natalia Rosa, project lead of the SADC Business Council Tourism Alliance, underscored the critical role of aviation in regional development: "Aviation is not a luxury, it's the lifeblood of a modern regional economy. Improved air connectivity unlocks a range of benefits: it streamlines travel, opens doors for new tourism markets, and strengthens regional economic ties."

Gavin Eccles, head of vertical at BAE Ventures, emphasised tourism boards must be "at the table" with compelling cases backed by local market insights, travel trade ties and unique selling points that airlines often lack.

"Tourism boards should not only provide data but also offer a local perspective that airlines may not have," Eccles said, citing India's successful "Incredible India" branding undermined by poor connectivity.

Regional coordination like aligned visa policies, joint itinerary promotion and tapping conservation funds can also help finance route development. But Tim Harris of Helm Growth Advisors cautioned: "Retaining and expanding existing airline services should be the priority before attracting new routes."

While direct subsidies face sustainability questions, Bentum-Williams said other incentives enable an “environment of trust” for profit-focused airlines.

"There's a need to change the narrative from just paying airlines to fly routes to creating an environment of trust and confidence," he said.
Jillian Blackbeard, CEO of Africa’s Eden Tourism Association, highlighted successful collaboration with Proflight through local stakeholders and trade backing, building airline confidence without major incentives.

"We worked closely with Proflight and local stakeholders to ensure that routes were supported by the trade and the private sector, which helped build confidence in the airline and led to successful route development without significant financial incentives," Blackbeard shared.

Future of African aviation

Coordinated efforts leveraging DMOs’ destination expertise can unlock increased connectivity - a lifeline for Africa's tourism economies long grounded by poor air links.

The AviaDev Africa workshop was designed as a platform for action to address the challenges of the aviation industry and collaborate on solutions. The intention from the outset was to examine how tourism stakeholders, including national tourism organisations and private-sector tourism associations, can become involved in route development and assist airlines with route promotion.

The workshop's success has now secured it a place at AviaDev 2025 in Zanzibar. Scheduled for the welcome reception the day before the main conference, it will equip tourism delegates with essential route development building blocks and comprise two days of networking and collaboration focused on reshaping African aviation's future.

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