Realising the Cape's potential

Posted On Friday, 01 October 2004 02:00 Published by
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Declaring open skies is the only way Cape Town will achieve its target of attracting 2.5 million tourists by 2013

30 Sep 2004

Declaring open skies is the only way Cape Town will achieve its target of attracting 2.5 million tourists by 2013.

This is according to British Airways General Manager, Charles Forsyth, who was addressing a Cape Town Press Club lunch to mark the airline’s 20th anniversary of direct flights to the Mother City.

South Africa and Cape Town had failed to capitalise on the country’s tourism appeal after 2001 and restricted air access is still limiting its potential. Although British Airways will carry nearly 200 000 tourists and business travellers to Cape Town this year, Forsyth argued it could and should be bringing more.

After the invasion of Iraq, a missile attack on an Israeli aircraft and the SARS outbreak in Asia and Canada, major competitors such as Kenya, Thailand and Indonesia were hamstrung by health or safety concerns.

“This combination of distressing events resulted in many holidaymakers considering other destinations and South Africa with its scenic beauty, favourable exchange rate and relative security became a sought-after alternative.

“There was a real chance to be bold and put on the capacity to bring thousands of holidaymakers here – and given the high incidence of return tourism to the Western Cape, many would have returned again and again.”

Yet despite intense campaigning by a number of airlines only a few flights were granted. BA and Virgin flew packed aircraft and claim to have left thousands of visitors behind, a contention backed by an informal poll of UK tour operators which indicated they would have been able to fill half as many seats again, had they been available.

More recently BA has boosted capacity by operating larger aircraft during the Cape winter, a move that it claims vindicates the argument that people will come if there is sufficient capacity. The 27 000 additional seats have largely been filled and the region is enjoying its best winter tourism season ever.

BA is also upping its summer frequencies to 12, but would like to offer double daily flights between London and the Mother City “sooner rather than later”. This, however, will require bilateral approval.

Forsyth warned that Cape Town may again be missing an opportunity this summer as many popular Caribbean holiday destinations have been devastated by a succession of hurricanes.

“Thousands of holidaymakers will be wondering where to go this December, given that Florida, Barbados, Jamaica or the Caymans may not be great options. For UK and European travellers Cape Town is an attractive destination and only an unjetlagged overnight flight away, but the tourism authorities appear to be doing little to actively entice them here or encourage airlines to put on more flights.”

Constrained capacity from the UK, South Africa’s major tourism source market and trading partner will handicap Cape Town’s tourism potential for the forseeable future and will be a key issue for those charged with delivering the region’s tourism targets of 2.5 million international arrivals by 2013, he said.

With the current momentum, increased conference and incentive travel and the 2010 World Cup, this was an achievable goal, but only if airlines were able to increase flights to meet demand and the best way to achieve this is open skies.

“The key to exploiting this great opportunity will be to get as many people here as possible and ensure they stay after the matches. It’s the scheduled carriers which will enable fans who are travelling halfway around the world to build a holiday around the tournament. This is what will deliver real benefit to the country.

“That’s why the tourism authorities need to start planning now. Scheduled airlines plan route networks years in advance, shifting aircraft and crews to where they are going to provide the best return. Cape Town must get its pitch in soon.”

But Forsyth said that despite protectionism and capacity constraints there were reasons for optimism. Amongst these that tourism to the Western Cape had continued to grow despite the recent rand strength, providing that the destination was able to offer much more than just a cheap holiday.

Similarly the amalgamation of myriad tourism bodies into a single, focused entity was a sensible move.

“There’s no doubt that Cape Town, with its natural beauty, pleasant Mediterranean climate, rich cultural and historic heritage is increasingly recognised as one of the world’s tourism capitals. But in a tough, competitive industry this is not enough – ensuring that the next 20 years are as successful as the past two decades demands some bold, proactive action and cannot be left to chance.”

Publisher: Cape Business News
Source: Cape Business News

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