By Audrey D’Angelo
Cape Town – Increasing prosperity in many African countries north of South Africa has caused a steep rise in business travel, with more airlines,including SAA, increasing their services to cater for it and more international hotel groups moving in. But a rise in tourism to Africa has mostly been restricted to already popular destinations including this country, Mauritius and Kenya.
However, others which so far have been less well known are attracting more tourists and this trend seems likely to increase by next season, to the benefit of SAA, which has already reduced its annual loss in spite of rising costs and its withdrawal of some established services in order to use its fleet on enlarging its route network in this continent.
A recent survey showed that more South Africans were interested in seeing more of Africa. This trend – together with more international tourism to other parts of the continent, helped in many cases by the development of Joburg’s OR Tambo Airport as a hub for African flights – seems likely to increase as a result of an African Travel Market organised by Reed Exhibitions in Cape Town in May and the inclusion of more African countries in the annual Tourism Indaba organised by South African Tourism in Durban in the same month.
It is already pronounced in Francophone Africa. Some parts of former French colonies have attracted tourism for many years and an invitation to SAA by Air Senegal to enter a code-sharing agreement will obviously, if accepted, lead to more South Africans flying to them.
The upmarket Legacy hotel group, which accepts SAA frequent flyer points towards the cost of accommodation, has just opened a luxury hotel, Le Cristal, in Libreville, Gabon, where it says the “demand for opulent accommodation” for both leisure and business visitors is soaring. According to a Legacy spokesman,the hotel is a short walk from both the presidential palace and the business district and Libreville is a four-hour flight from OR Tambo, while the hotel is about 15 minutes’ drive from Gabon airport.
According to Legacy’s business development manager, Mark Havercroft, Gabon is a middle-income country with a per capita income “four times the average for a sub-Saharan country”.
It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Guinea, Cameroon and Congo (not to be confused with the less stable Democratic Republic of Congo). Gabon is also likely to attract young people as well as wealthier tourists because of the wildlife it can offer. Neighbouring Congo also has a conservation park where lowland gorillas are among the wildlife that can be seen.
Danny Bryer, sales director of Protea Hotels, said last week that he was concerned about SAA’s decision to withdraw its service from Joburg to Buenos Aires next month because the service was making a loss (as many of SAA’s services unfortunately are at present). Our entire tourism industry, including the provincial minister of tourism, and Argentinian travel agencies, also asked SAA to reconsider. But next month,when the flight is due to be withdrawn, is traditionally the end of our tourism season and indications are that by spring, SAA’s service is likely to be replaced by at least one other. Aerolinas Argentinas is believed to be considering flights to Cape Town, particularly as there is a demand for business flights in addition to those bringing increasing numbers of tourists. We may also receive flights from neighbouring Chile and the industry believes there may be charter flights.
l An unfortunate lapse of memory caused me to write in last week’s column that the weekly mail ships that used to bring most visitors from the UK to South Africa were operated in turn by British shipping line Cunard and the then South African-owned Safmarine, which now belongs to the owners of Danish line Maersk. In fact, the British shipping line operating the system was Union Castle. I should certainly have remembered that fact because I arrived in South Africa aboard the Pendennis Castle. But that was in the 1970s, and a long time has elapsed since then and I am afraid I had completely forgotten the name of the Union Castle line.
One reader who complained about this has also taken exception to the fact that I wrote about “the British Concorde” and “the French Concorde” as though there had been only one of each. In fact, it was customary to refer to these planes in this way to distinguish which airline was operating the service, although it was obvious that each airline had more than one since it would otherwise have been impossible to operate a continuous transatlantic service and also hire Concordes out for private functions, which, as I mentioned, was the case with the Concorde that crashed in flames. – Weekend Argus