Q & A – SAA on withdrawing direct London-Cape Town flights

Claire Bisseker spoke to Wesgro CEO Nils Flaatten about SAA’s withdrawal of direct London-Cape Town flights

What is your reaction to SAA’s move?

We’re disappointed and while we accept the case SAA is making — that the price of fuel has increased and there are insufficient business travellers on the route — we believe the Western Cape and neighbouring provinces have a strong tourism offering and an efficient airport geared to receiving more tourists. In the final quarter of last year, international air arrivals inCape Townwere up 14% on the previous year.

What impact do you expect the loss of the flights will have on tourism arrivals?

Tourism arrivals inCape Town— and also for theEastern Capeand theGarden Route— will be adversely affected. SAA has been flying two directLondonflights intoCape Towneach week. That capacity is being taken away. Many business and leisure travellers from theUSalso useLondonas a connecting flight intoCape Townand so we also risk losing these visitors, as the travelling time has been extended even further.

Shouldn’t we have a national debate and consensus on what airlift strategy best meets the economy’s needs rather than have SAA taking unilateral action?

That’s 100% correct. SAA seems to be consolidating its operation aroundJohannesburgand yetCape Townhas just won the award for the best airport inAfricaand has a strong tourism proposition. A national airlift strategy has been mooted for years by national government. We need to have that debate urgently. It should include developing a strategy for all the regional airports, not justCape Town.

Is this a major setback to Wesgro’s drive to makeCapeTown the gateway to the rest ofAfrica?

Cape Townis becoming the launch pad for doing business on the west coast ofAfrica, so yes, it is a big setback in that it reduces the capacity to bring business people here. We’re engaging SAA to try to understand their arguments and to see how we can intensify destination marketing for the Western Cape to the other new markets SAA is pursuing — Brazil, Latin America, India and Argentina — in order to compensate. We are also engaging with the other airlines that fly intoCape Townto see what destination marketing we can do with them to encourage tourism.

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