Major international airlines want to return to South African airspace and are a vital part of reopening inbound tourism.

This was highlighted in a recent webinar hosted by SATSA, where industry stakeholders discussed the gradual reopening of inbound tourism and acknowledged that it would not be possible without air access.

“We know that Lufthansa, British Airways, KLM, Ethiopian, Emirates, Qatar, United and Delta are all on standby, saying they want to come back to South Africa as soon as possible, which is a powerful lobbying tool because it means they have the bookings and the knowledge that consumers are willing to come back,” said Chief Tourism Officer of Wesgro, Margie Whitehouse.

She said the inbound tourism industry could build a strong economic case for reopening inbound flights as well as a case for safety, ensuring that South African citizens were still protected.

Whitehouse emphasised that the aviation industry, much like the tourism industry, still needed to instil confidence that it could operate safely. “Opening up the golden triangle (Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban) and Lanseria just for business travel makes no economic sense, but it makes a huge amount of sense in showing how the protocols throughout the aviation value chain work, and work effectively.”

While pricing is still a central issue, Whitehouse said the current focus in aviation was to see how it worked in unlocking inbound tourism.

Air access is not only vital for tourism in South Africa but for the whole southern African region. “We know how reliant we are on South Africa as a hub into not only sub-Saharan Africa but parts of East Africa as well. Over 28% of our international arrivals travel to other parts of southern Africa,” said Whitehouse.

She said to maintain South Africa’s position as a hub on the continent, an aviation recovery strategy needed to be put into action as quickly as possible.