Airline body sets ambitious goals amid challenges


The rains beat a gentle pace on the manicured lawn of the Arabella Hotel and Spa located in the heart of the Kogelberg Biosphere in the Western Cape.
Chosen as the Airline Conference venue for the Southern Conference, captains of industry may have been looking for the perfect mix – luxury and an idyllic setting to seek new ambitions – two years after the Covid pandemic -19 has put the airline industry in a bottleneck.
Still, there is a glimmer of hope that the industry can recover from this crisis and grow by leaps and bounds. Participants included Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, Airlink Airlines, Royce Rolls, among others.

Double hit
With economies stuck in a tailspin due to high global fuel prices – with no end in sight to the Ukrainian dispute – the airline industry must be cautiously optimistic about Africa’s ability to increase its passenger numbers at beyond the paltry 1.9% of global market share.
This requires brave and smart decisions anchored on government support for the vital airline industry, which is a major cog in the tourism industry.
Other players – including the banking, infrastructure and tourism sectors – need to work in silos to give the airline industry the boost it needs to take off into the skies without too much turbulence, industry experts said.
For policymakers, the three-day conference that ran from October 13-15 served as a retreat to self-introspect and fix leaks in the airline industry. But beyond the colorful rhetoric and metaphors, these lofty dreams can only be realized through hard work and a step-by-step approach by Southern African airlines to improve their services, network, open new routes as this will lead exponential growth in the number of passengers.

Speaking at the conference, Lindiwe Sisulu, South Africa’s Minister for Tourism, revealed that the travel and tourism industry had been nearly decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The South African government has, however, put in place various relief measures.
“The recovery plan interventions included, among others, the development and implementation of global benchmarks to build traveler confidence, support for the protection of basic tourism infrastructure and stimulation of demand by the through various campaign and marketing programs to boost domestic and international demand,” Ms. Sisulu said.

Pandemic hit
Tourist arrivals to South Africa have fallen sharply to 2.8 million people in 2020 and 2.5 million visitors in 2021, well below the peak of 10.2 million in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic. 19 abruptly interrupts travel.
There is nevertheless a silver lining as South Africa’s tourism sector heads towards its peak.
According to statistics from October 2022, the number of domestic and international tourists increased exponentially while foreign visitors reached 3.3 million, an increase of 165% compared to the same period in 2021. Most of the visitors came from African countries at 75%, while 15% came from Europe.
Ms Sisulu said there was an urgent need for crisis management in the travel and tourism sector, including the provision of resources to support response measures given the frequency of natural disasters, pandemics and crises that have pushed the world economy into freefall.

Aaron Munetsi, chief executive of the Southern Airlines Airline Association, said that before the pandemic, African air traffic accounted for around 2.5% of global traffic. In 2021, the contribution fell to a meager 1.8%.
The Russian-Ukrainian crisis has posed a new challenge, affecting the pace of the industry’s recovery as high fuel prices have risen from $78 (about 293,000 shillings) a barrel in 2021 to a high of $142 ( approximately 534,000 shillings) per barrel. . As a result, airlines across Africa suffered an astronomical loss of $8.6 billion during the pandemic, which wiped out nearly 49.8% of revenue in 2019.

The connectivity blues
Connectivity on the continent remains another delicate issue. About 22% of Africans traveling between two African cities are forced to go through non-African hubs, either in Europe or the Middle East. Mr. Munetsi believes that “the situation can only be reversed through the coordination of networks and schedules in African hubs”.
Connectivity is intimately linked to trade, business development and tourism. As a result, intra-African trade stands at a modest 18% compared to Europe at 64% and Asia slightly above 50%.

Before the pandemic spread across the world, the average GDP per capita in Europe was €30,000 (Shs. 130 million). In Africa, the statistics are grim as 25 African countries had a per capita income below $1,000 (3.8 million shillings), while only eight had a per capita income above $5,000 (19 million shillings). . Without a robust middle class, air travel and intra-African traffic will remain in the doldrums.

It is hoped that the African Continental Free Trade Area will provide the necessary impetus to improve intra-African trade as new air traffic routes emerge to meet demand and connectivity improves.
“While some thought fortune favors the bold, we were reminded that in reality fortune favors those who are prepared, focused, responsive, agile, resilient and determined,” Mr. Munetsi said, adding: “This must be the new cardinal points through which we navigate the path of sustainability in its broadest and truest sense.

Conservation campaign
Thanks to the triumph of conservation efforts, the park is home to one of the largest white rhino populations in the world. It is located high on a ridge, offering a spectacular panoramic view.
The reserve is home to a variety of species including cheetah, elephant, giraffe, lion and buffalo. In a lush setting, you can observe birds and admire the picturesque African plains.
Early morning and late afternoon game drives are included and guided walks can be arranged on request. We were lucky enough to see a lioness napping on a tree after a meal.
On the way back to Durban we passed through St. Lucia at the world famous iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Formerly known as St. Lucia Estuary and Wetlands, iSimangaliso is a World Heritage Site that stretches from Kosi Bay in the north to Cape St. Lucia in the south on the Elephant Coast.

Parts of this area have been a game reserve since 1895. The small town of Saint Lucia serves as a tourist center for the park and has grown considerably from a sleepy little village, perched under a canopy of trees, to a nurturing town which is suitable for domestic eco-tourism today.
Gateway to a world of freshwater pools, lakes, mangrove and reed swamps, marshy grasslands, coastal dunes and abundant wildlife, the city is a two-hour drive from Durban . Life here is pretty laid back and peaceful, if the monkeys, small duikers and hippos that roam the streets freely are to be believed, and it’s an ideal stopover before heading to the more remote parts of the elephant coast. Saint Lucia’s popularity with anglers is evident – seafood restaurants are plentiful and bait and tackle shops are anything but thin.
It also includes the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, the third largest park in South Africa.

On the northeast coast of KwaZulu Natal, this wildlife reserve stretches 280 km of coastline from Kozi Bay in the north to Cape St. Lucia in the south and was the first park in South Africa to be declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1999. .
The park includes Lake Saint Lucia and its estuary, a wildlife sanctuary, a number of islands and part of the marine reserve along the coast.

It is home to five recognizable ecosystems and includes swamps, lake systems, coral reefs, beaches, wetlands, woodlands and coastal forests.
The Great St Lucia Wetland Park is home to the largest population of hippos and crocodiles in the country. It is also home to leatherback turtles, black rhinos, leopards, over 530 species of birds, including flamingos and lesser flamingos, and some 36 species of amphibians.
Durban is emerging from the floods that ravaged the city in April, leaving a trail of death and destruction. However, the resilience of its people to cope after the disaster offers hope instead of apprehension.

Images and sounds of South Africa
At the end of the conference, many spectacular sites highlighted the tourist potential of the Rainbow Nation. This reporter visited the Benguela Cove Lagoon wine estate buried in the hills and blue lakes of the Western Cape, an opulent residential winery, which has an olive and lavender vineyard.
It also has an art gallery as its walls are adorned with the finesse of South African artists, providing a rich tapestry of the country’s culture and heritage.

Returning to Cape Town, away from Kleinmond, a coastal village of sleepy rhythms, velvety black envelops the mountains and as we begin to descend, the sun penetrates the landscape as the breath of fresh air from the ocean-swept city wind filters through.
Once in Cape Town, one can visit the colorful houses of Bo Kaap at the Cape of Good Hope, take a cable car across Table Mountain, embark on a scenic drive along Chapman’s Peak and visit the penguin colony at Boulder’s Beach.
Alternatively, one can sail to Robben Island and visit the prison where iconic South African President Nelson Mandela was held for 18 of his 27 years in prison.

Durban, in the province of Kwazulu Natal, is another South African tourist gem, a two-hour flight from Cape Town. Birthplace of the great Zulu kingdom and heritage, its verdant landscape is dotted with eucalyptus boulevards and, as you head into the countryside, it bears a striking resemblance to the villages of Uganda.
Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge is located on the western edge of Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park, a four hour drive from Durban city.
The lodge is located in the oldest proclaimed game reserve in Africa with a park of 96,000 hectares.


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