Seizing aviation opportunities to grow tourism within destinations: The SA Tourism Story


In the last few years, the African tourism industry has seen growth not only in international arrivals, but most importantly, also in an incredible airlift to the continent from the source markets.

While the growth is not the desired numbers for the continent, it is nevertheless good progress to talk about.

With African destinations showing positive signs of recovery, as captured in the latest UNWTO Barometer – which indicated that 88 per cent of the pre-Covid figures recovered only 2 percent shy of the benchmarking Europe region – the development posits well for the region’s tourism recovery.

However, the recovery is still not commensurate with the access and airlift to the countries. According to IATA, Africa accounts for 18% of the global population, but just 2.1% of air transport activities (combined cargo and passenger).

One of the issues, which Africa needs to address urgently, is the need for joined-up thinking between aviation, tourism, and the economy as a whole. Airports are often seen as an easy fix – a convenient source of income – for governments, rather than being seen as an enabler of tourism that benefits the economy and trade.

The tourism sector as we know it and has been pontificated by experts, academics and many stakeholders, can only function at an optimum level through collaboration and partnership. Anything short of that will only deliver short-term results.

It is now a growing trend that aside from the last-minute invitations issued by the aviation authorities/ government imperative to have key parastatals line up to welcome new aircraft to destinations, there are almost no efforts by many Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) to make the case for the inherent part of tourism and aviation planning, and to lobby airlines to choose their respective destinations.

For a region whose tourist/business arrivals are almost 70 per cent by air, one will think the slightest opportunity available will see managers of the various destinations engage, plan, and understand the route development of their destinations.

In this instance, the small island states (SIDs) like the Seychelles have an enviable record of a strong working relationship with the aviation stakeholders to attract and ensure the airlines stay, which means ensuring the destination is accessible and inadvertently competitive.

South African Tourism, the national marketing agency for tourism in South Africa, has more than shown not just the will but instituted measures to drive projects, which has seen them engage airlines, C-level aviation professionals and airports – to see more access to the rainbow nation.

These initiatives are further seen with a continent-eye view to grow travel in and out of Africa. South Africa receives more than 70% of arrivals from the rest of the African continent.

SA Tourism has in the last 5-10 years been an active participant in aviation-centred events and engaging the critical stakeholders to see how they continue opening up the destination to their source markets. Particular mention of this active participation has seen it taking on a DMO front role at the AviaDev Africa conference, which has been held in the country three times.

Nomasonto Ndlovu, acting Chief Executive Officer, South Africa Tourism

The agency has been consistent with not just participation but rallying all the provinces to see the immense value in being proactive around air access.

Speaking on the need for synergy between the aviation and tourism industries at the IATA Focus Africa Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Nomasonto Ndlovu, Acting Chief Executive Officer, of South Africa Tourism, noted that such collaboration, particularly in her country, would boost efforts at making South Africa an attractive destination on the African continent.

“It was quite interesting that the conference was attended by airlines, aircraft manufacturers, airports companies, travel agencies, and other aviation specialists and experts, but the DMOs were missing in action yet they are an important part of the aviation sector,” she observed.

At the IATA conference, the SA Tourism acting CEO hinted at the need to develop the African aviation sector, which she said is very critical for the growth and development of the African tourism sector and contribution to the growth of African economies.

It is fair to mention that the Western Cape’s lead with the Wesgro Air Access programme has seen some domino effect, and delivered incredible access from the key source markets to the Cape Town International Airport. In its last report, the province reported an encouraging 15 African airlines now having direct access from the beautiful Mother City. At the recently held AviaDev conference, there was Durban Direct, another SA province, leading and joining the aviation stakeholders to convince them to see the value in putting them on the map of the tourism world.

Officials of Durban Direct engaging with stakeholders at AviaDev conference in Nairobi

You can market and have all the fanciful campaigns to make your destination top of mind but a single difficulty in accessing the destination will be a huge disincentive for the would-be traveller.

The Cape Town Air Access team at this year’s AviaDev conference held in Nairobi

It is worth mentioning that in the last two years, SA Tourism has used any opportunity it has through its activations to make aviation a must-feature. At this year’s Meetings Africa and Africa’s Travel Indaba, the two Pan-African trade shows featured an airline pavilion. For the first time, they also hosted sessions dedicated to aviation including an exploration of their services and products available to spur tourism.

Generally, the tourism industry we know in many African destinations is suffering from inadequate financing as they are seen as a non-priority sector, but if DMOs can make that step by being part of the aviation engagement it will go a long way to not only creating access to their source markets but through the partnership, help shape the campaigns the airlines and airport companies embark on.

It will also give the industry some wonderful insights into the potential of markets and their power to change tact.

It is time for DMOs in Africa to take the lead and be the change needed to make destinations a desired bucket list for tourists or business travellers.


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