SAA still number one in seat capacity: The hard numbers behind South Africa's air connectivity

Air connectivity has become a major factor in a destination's appeal to international travellers, and the more routes you can offer the more you can grow your tourism industry.

Being at one of the most southern tips in the world with vast ocean expanses on both sides, flights to South Africa is normally a long-haul experience. But that doesn't mean travellers are put off by the distance.

Our aviation is steadily growing, with a lot of support from SA Tourism, as its Head of Global Trade Bradley Brouwer gave a brief overview of how the company is dedicated to increased air access and flight retention to the country's ports of entry.

READ: Iberia cancels SA flight route 

Outbound as important as inbound travellers

SA Tourism aims to grow the number of tourists by five million between 2017 and 2021 - four million international visitors and one million domestic tourists. 

There's also a need to promote outbound tourism to other countries from SA, especially on direct flight routes - these aren't just for inbound tourists. If more South Africans also start using the direct routes for business or leisure, that route's popularity will remain stable and it becomes less likely to be discontinued. 

"One of our biggest challenges is creating two-way traffic in South Africa. You can come with a full plane of Chinese tourists and leave with the same amount, but refuelling costs with an international currency make it more expensive through conversion rates and bank charges, thus there's a need to have more South Africans doing outbound travel as well."

ALSO SEE: #WTMA19 shakes up its Responsible Tourism programme as Grootbos takes top honours

The routes lost and capacity gained

Over the last 10 years, South Africa has lost 47 airlines and 37 direct flight routes, including to countries like India, Russia, Portugal, Argentina and Thailand. However, seat capacity to OR Tambo International and Cape Town International airports have increased significantly over the last six years.

The active airlines with the most seat capacity are South African Airways, followed by Emirates, British Airways, Qatar Airways and Ethiopian Airlines. SA's largest route based on seat capacity is Johannesburg to Dubai, with over a million seats in 2018.

Currently, SA has 106 active international routes in 2018 connected to 69 cities across the globe - 55 linking to the rest of the continent and 51 connecting to overseas destinations.

These are the top 5 routes from Johannesburg:

  • Dubai (Emirates)
  • London (British Airways)
  • Harare (SAA, BA and Air Zimbabwe)
  • Nairobi (SAA, Kenyan Airways and Air Namibia)
  • Windhoek (SAA and Air Namibia)

These are the top 5 routes from Cape Town:

  • Dubai (Emirates)
  • London (British Airways)
  • Amsterdam (KLM)
  • Addis Ababa (Ethiopian Airlines)
  • Doha (Qatar Airways)

These are the top 5 routes from Durban:

  • Dubai (Emirates)
  • Doha (Qatar Airways)Istanbul (Turkish Airlines)
  • Mauritius (Air Mauritius)
  • Gaborone (Air Namibia)

ALSO SEE: Drilling deeper into destinations: Why you should start choosing secondary-destination travel

What's next?

Two destinations getting some focus is India, because of South Africa's large Indian sector, and potential in the market, and China. The Asian powerhouse has become one of the biggest travel groups in the world, but South Africa only gets about 0.06% of that traffic, according to Brouwer. 

One of the challenges is cultural sensitivity, which can be targeted through training and the images of China portrayed in local media. Brouwer even goes as far as to recommend that tour companies have protocols in place on how to host Chinese visitors.

Find Your Escape by searching and comparing flight prices here. You can also sign-up for the Traveller24 Weekly Newsletter – Subscribe hereOr download the News24 App hereto receive expertly curated travel ideas and deals directly to your mobile.