A record number of airlines and airports travelled to the stunning islands of the Seychelles this year for Routes Africa, which provided a vivid reminder that the continent boasts some of the best leisure destinations in the world.
Over 50 delegates and representatives from over 30 airlines from Africa and further afield, including United, Nasair, Turkish Airlines Cargo, Mango, Iberia, Vueling and Etihad were in attendance.
There followed a packed three days of one-to-one meetings and networking and route exchange briefings while Etihad provided an informative workshop outlining best practice in the field of interline and codeshare agreements.
South Africa Tourism Minister, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, opened the Routes Africa Strategy Forum by outlining the economic benefit of tourism and encouraged delegates and African nations to unite together to promote regional and international tourism.
To underscore this, he revealed plans to lead the launch of a pan-African e-visa which would remove many of the existing restrictions to boost tourism and called on other nations to endorse it.
“By introducing e-visas, we will not only grow tourism volumes, but we will also create many new job opportunities to accelerate the creation of regional visa schemes. This would allow our international visitors and intra-African travellers to move more freely and efficiently, to the benefit of our continent,” he told delegates.
He also encouraged the development of more “hub and spoke airlift configurations” within Africa in order to connect peripheral areas to the mainstream air routes and create a “south-south” network corridor.
Cramer Ball, the recently appointed CEO of Air Seychelles, outlined some of the major changes to have taken place at the airline, including a new emphasis on training, product and customer service.
“We had to introduce development and training opportunities so our staff could grow; our staff knew they had a future. We introduced, and have delivered, graduate management programmes, cadet programmes, staff cabin crew development, engineering training programmes, cabin crew development, for our people we needed to move quickly,” said Ball.
Ball also revealed that the partnership with Etihad saying, “What is key is to drive revenue, link into the Etihad distribution network, link into the Etihad sales staff and sales team to grow distribution.”
The first session focused on liberalisation of the African aviation market, a topic which created some heated debate about how governments should approach the issue.
Jean-Marc Grazzini, EVP for business development, Air Austral, said the case for liberalising a country’s aviation market was clear, but said the government had to ensure the national airline was in a “strong financial position” before this happens.
Dr Douglas Runyowa from the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority also welcomed the principle of liberalisation but warned international carriers that they need to work with regional carriers, not against them, and warned they would “start resisting” if competition was too aggressive.
On the second the day, the issue of safety, security and standards was discussed. Raphael Kuuchi, director of commercial/corporate affairs & industry affairs for association AFRAA, produced figures to show “a consistent improvement in safety in Africa over the last 10 years” with fatal accidents between 2010 and 2011 down by 10 aircraft, from 18 to eight last year.
Nico Bezuidenhout, CEO of Mango Airlines, said that in order to improve standards, airlines had to internalise responsibility for safety and only then would they begin investing the necessary funds. A lot of the problems were also down to a perception of Africa as unsafe, added Bert van der Stege, commercial director, RwandAir.
“We have to correct a perception especially in the Western world, a perception that African skies are unsafe, that African airports are unsafe and African airlines are unsafe. To me especially as a foreigner, a lot of Westerners, and Western pilots, believe that we have elephants, giraffes, lions walking on the runway, airports not doing their job,” van der Stege said. Though he admitted “we have serious challenges on this continent”.
From safety and security, the panel discussion moved on to post-Arab Spring North Africa and Joachim Winning, COO of Cairo Airport Company, told delegates that, despite the change of government, a policy of protectionism in the aviation industry still prevailed and was damaging traffic growth.
He pointed out that Egyptair has successfully pressured authorities not to allow low-cost carriers to operate to Cairo or to allow Emirates to operate the A380.
Rany Nasser, route development manager at Abu Dhabi Airports Company, said he imagined North African carriers were “looking at other markets” than Europe to try to increase their loads following the Eurozone crisis and hoped that Tunisia and Egypt would soon return to stable tourism markets.
This article features in Routes News 2012 Issue 5