Alitalia launches new direct SA flight route with lesser-known Italy and cruise tourism drawcards for locals

Cape Town - Alitalia has upped connectivity between SA and Europe, re-launching its Johannesburg to Rome route after initially cutting the long-haul service about 17 years ago.

The inaugural flight, kick-starting the only direct service between SA and Italy, landed on Monday, 9 April as part of a four-flights per week offering from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo. 

The airline is operating a 250-seat Airbus A330-200 configured in Magnifica business class, premium economy and economy class – with the average economy class ticket starts at about R6 000.    

Chief Commercial Officer of Alitalia, Fabio Maria Lazzerini says Alitalia is concentrating on expanding its long-haul network, having also recently added direct connectivity between New Delhi and the Maldives to Rome.

With the new Joburg route, he says the airline is looking to maximise the already long-standing commercial relationship between the two countries – while extending Alitalia’s existing Northern African operations.

The flight is also key to the European summer season planning, with the point to point connectivity being a night flight – arriving in the morning in both OR Tambo and Rome Fiumicino Airport.   

Added to this, the airline has forged partnerships beyond just the point to point with travellers further offered connections with air Namibia, Comair and Air Mauritius.

Lazzerini says the airline will continue to monitor the frequency with the option to increase frequency as required. For now, he expects the connectivity to grow organically across key areas of trade and tourism.

Last year South Africa saw a 7.6% increase in the number of tourists coming from Europe with over 61 000 of those being from Italy. Lazzerini ­­­­­says between the two countries the trade balance in 2017 registered an estimated Euro 3.2bn (about R45bn at 13.87/Euro), having seen growth of about 9.5%. 

He remains confident that the direct route will stimulate growth in both countries as the airline actively works together with the Italian Tourism board and South African Tourism.

The Italian Tourism Board is developing niche programmes for SA travellers, encouraging them to explore Italy beyond the main, popular cities such as Rome, Milan and Venice.  

“It is both a challenging and exciting time,” says Lazzerini as the airline explores expanding initiatives for cruising – a big drawcard for the likes of Venice, Naples and Genoa for example.

He says with globally recognised Italian brand such as MSC – it expects to extend connectivity offerings for SA cruise hubs such as Durban for example.

SEE: #FindYourEscape: 2018 Cruise routes + 4 things a first time cruiser needs to know

Added benefits for travellers like  ‘Stopover Roma'

The airline says this new product allows Alitalia passengers travelling between two cities to stop in Rome for the price of a ticket including a simple airport transit.

Travellers will also qualify for special hotel rates for affiliated accommodation facilities and for complimentary luggage deposits at Fiumicino airport. 

The ‘Rome Stopover’ can be requested when the air ticket is purchased at travel agencies, through Alitalia Call Centre numbers worldwide. All information and travel conditions relating to the ‘Rome Stopover’ can be found in the dedicated section of alitalia.com in all foreign involved markets. 

A new product of Alitalia regarding a package of tickets that can be bought in conjunction with an Alitalia intercontinental flight, to visit Italy or Europe. This Pricing Product will allow the guest to buy internal connections at very advantageous prices and conditions because they are linked to an Alitalia long haul flight. Below are the main characteristics:

  • Number of flights: minimum of 4 flights, maximum of 8 flights
  • Each flight refers to a single leg
  • Advance booking: all the tickets must be issued before the departure of the Intercontinental flight and all the flights must be booked before the departure of the long-haul flight
  • Changes: rebooking allowed, only before departure, with the payment of a penalty
  • Levels: Italy routes: €58 for each flight (tax excluded), Europe routes: €90 for each flight (tax excluded), North Africa and Middle East routes: €110 for each flight (tax excluded)

Growth injection

South African Tourism is especially excited about the new route's growth injection capacity to the tourism industry. “This new route will help us achieve our growth targets which ultimately creates more jobs in this country. I congratulate the partners behind this wonderful achievement for their success and bringing a truly global airline like Alitalia to South Africa,” says Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom.

Chief Operations Officer, South African Tourism, Ms Sthembiso Dlamini says “Accessibility, cost and ease of travel are important considerations for most international travellers.  We are ready to welcome many Italians and to share with them our unique wildlife, incredible scenery, welcoming people, delicious food and wine, cosmopolitan cities and unspoiled wildernesses to life.” 

SEE:12 Reasons why you should 'never' travel to South Africa 

Gauteng Air Access Committee driving growth

But while an existing load factor of “4 000 passengers per week might” not be massive, there are already tangible spin-offs for the Gauteng Air Access Committee directly involved in the re-establishment of the route.

Modelled on the successes of the Western Cape’s Direct Routes Access initiative, the Gauteng Air Access Committee includes key stakeholders such as Airports Company South African, the City of Ekurhuleni and Gauteng Growth Development Agency. 

Significantly the committee is working its way into establishing the master plan for the Gauteng Aerotropolis, says Bongiwe Pityi, General Manager of OR Tambo International Airport, by building up infrastructure to enhance airlift and capacity in and around Africa’s busiest Airport. Currently OR Tambo facilitates some estimated 22-million passengers annually.

The launch of the new Alitalia route forms part of the committee’s airlift strategy, as the airline opens fresh connectivity between Europe and Africa.

“Alitalia, with its connectivity to 94 international destinations, including 26 Italian, and 68 international destinations, with over 4 000 weekly flights, and 143 routes, will contribute immensely to the realisation of the aerotropolis, and will enhance the attractiveness of Johannesburg as a destination.”

Already there are some 61 000 inbound travellers coming from Rome says Pityi, with Acsa identifying the route as one of the markets that needed to be re-explored during its strategic negotiations initially undertaken at the 2017 World Routes Conference in Barcelona. Pityi says the Acsa is currently in strategic planning with a May deadline set for the committee’s forward airlift strategy ahead of the next conference in China come September 2018.

Routes and capacity increase already coming to fruition, with direct spin-offs in relation to the Alitalia route increase, include the upcoming Ethiopian Airlines expansion between Addis Abba and Joburg from two flights to three flights from June 2018.

“This is a direct response to the Alitalia service, with many from Ethiopia that transfer directly to Rome,” says Pityi.

El Al, Israeli airline El Al is also increasing its weekly flights from three to five from the 29 October.   

“As Acsa, we understand the impact in terms of passenger trends and how the other airlines respond with additional capacity is key,” says Pityi.

Congo Airways, which has launched the Lubumbashi and JHB is currently a non-scheduled flight she says, with a few regulatory requirements from the DHA still pending but expected to be approved shortly.  

Similarly, Virgin Atlantic is starting its second daily serviced between JHB and London from October 2018. Pityi says while Virgin will be directly competing with SAA on the route, passengers are expected to benefit as the airline will be “responding with a six-start service for their business class passengers”.