Trade needs to fill the new flights
Tourism KZN CEO Ndabo Khoza says that since the launch of the direct routes from the King Shaka International Airport, there has been an increase of the visitor both international and regional markets. “The increase of the international markets is at 23.9%,” he says. This outpaces overall growth in international arrivals, which is up 19% for the first half of the year, compared to 2015.
The flights have been welcome by the trade.
One of the biggest challenges to selling KwaZulu Natal in the past was a lack of international flights, says Craig Drysdale, GM: Global Sales of Thompsons Africa. He points out that three years ago, there were no international flights, apart from Air Mauritius serving King Shaka International Airport twice a week. “Now we have Qatar, Turkish and Emirates coming in.”
However, Drysdale emphasises the need to fill the flights. “We have got to start filling those planes because if we don’t fill those seats, airlines will just pull them out.” He adds that the province now has iconic sites and international flights. “What we need to do as tour operators is really drive KZN.”
Craig Smith, Founder of New Frontiers, says there’s been some increase following on from the flights, but adds that Durban is not naturally considered an entry hub, while and many people don’t realise the onward connections from the city. “We have had good success in selling Umhlanga Rocks and Zululand safari combinations of seven nights, using King Shaka as the entry and exit point.
Caroline Palazzo, Sales Manager at Wilderness Safaris, says she hasn’t seen the impact of the new flights. “It hasn’t changed a buying pattern as yet,” she says, adding that it is still early days. Both Palazzo and Smith also point out that because South Africa is suited to circuits, combining the highlights of the country, new flights in KZN are unlikely to change an overall buying and packaging pattern. For example Smith says group has a very strong self-drive market that do a Durban – Drakensberg – Battlefields – Zululand loop. “These travellers tend to go on to Kruger National park rather than flying out of KSIA.”
Drysdale points out that while visitors are up year on year, this is partly thanks to the efforts of Tourism KZN. However, he says the province is not seeing the growth in numbers its counterparts are enjoying. Rung Button, Sales and Operations Director at Inspirations Travel and Tours, suggests the new flights are probably mostly being used by KZN residents using these airlines to bypass OR Tambo, Johannesburg, when travelling to Europe, or the passengers are visiting friends and relatives travellers.
The one market that is showing growth, which could be related to the new flights, is India. Drysdale says Thompsons Africa is pushing marketing campaigns in India, which now has access via Emirates’ flights. “India’s definitely coming though,” says Drysdale, adding that KwaZulu Natal has the second biggest Indian population outside of India, which is a draw card for the market. This also supports Button’s theory about VFR visitors.
Charters out of Poland last year also brought in an influx of Polish visitors, says Drysdale. He has also seen an uptick in interest from the Dutch and German market.