Travel agents ap­peal against SAA’s can­cel­la­tion of flights


Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2013 - AU­DREY D’AN­GELO

SAA’S ser­vice be­tween Joburg and Buenos Aires, once a par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for Capeto­ni­ans in the days when Malaysia Air­lines stopped here, will end at the be­gin­ning of next year.

This is bad news for our tourism in­dus­try be­cause Cape Town has be­come an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion for Ar­gen­tini­ans.

A group of Ar­gen­tinian travel agents, ap­peal­ing against the de­ci­sion, said last week that tourism from their coun­try to South Africa was worth more than R400 mil­lion a year.

Alan Winde, the West­ern Cape Min­is­ter for Fi­nance, Tourism and Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment, has asked for an in­ter­view with SAA’s new chief ex­ec­u­tive, Mon­wabisi Kalawe – whom many of us re­mem­ber from when he was gen­eral man­ager of Cape Town In­ter­na­tional Air­port – to ask for the ser­vice to be re­tained.

Winde said Ar­gentina was one of our fastest-grow­ing tourism mar­kets and the de­ci­sion to stop the ser­vice be­fore our peak sea­son was a par­tic­u­lar blow. It was also a set­back to in­creased trade be­tween the two coun­tries.

Although SAA had not yet is­sued an an­nounce­ment to the press about its de­ci­sion to close the route, the air­line’s head of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Tlali Tlali, told me that this had been de­cided be­cause it was mak­ing a loss. The mat­ter was de­bated in Par­lia­ment this week, when it was men­tioned that the loss was up to R50m a year.

But it ap­pears that SAA’s ser­vice be­tween Joburg and Bei­jing, which the air­line wanted to close but the govern­ment in­sists on re­tain­ing be­cause of the im­por­tance of this coun­try’s ties with China, is los­ing up to R300m a year.

A ma­jor prob­lem for SAA is that it has needed a new fleet of new-gen­er­a­tion, fuel-sav­ing wide­bod­ied air­craft for some time to com­pete with other air­lines.

It also suf­fers from the dis­ad­van­tage that, as a state-owned air­line, it has to make un­eco­nomic de­ci­sions in line with govern­ment pol­icy – as the de­ci­sion to re­tain the Bei­jing route shows.

In­ci­den­tally, sev­eral busi­ness peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly in Cape Town, tell me they are con­tin­u­ing to fly to Bei­jing with Emi­rates be­cause of the greater com­fort and be­cause they en­joy the stopover in the com­fort­able ho­tels near the Dubai air­port.

Un­for­tu­nately, the de­ci­sion to with­draw from Buenos Aires does not mean that SAA’s ex­ist­ing fleet will be used on more prof­itable routes – far from it. In­stead the air­craft will be used to strengthen SAA’s African route net­work.

It is, ob­vi­ously, nec­es­sary for SAA to be the lead­ing air­line for travel within Africa and there is no time to be lost as for­eign air­lines, at­tracted by the in­creas­ing pros­per­ity of the con­ti­nent and the grow­ing de­mand for busi­ness travel to it, are mov­ing in.

But Erik Ven­ter, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Co­mair, warns that the ex­cep­tion­ally high costs of us­ing many African air­ports cou­pled with the fact that the grow­ing mid­dle classes in much of Africa are not yet earn­ing enough to fly fre­quently, mean that most African routes are un­prof­itable at this stage.

SAA’s new code- shar­ing ar­range­ments with Mid­dle East­ern air­line Eti­had, plus the sim­i­lar ar­range­ments it has with part­ners in the in­ter­na­tional Star Al­liance, will ob­vi­ously sup­ple­ment its pas­sen­ger loads.

But car­ry­ing their pas­sen­gers un­der these ar­range­ments means that it will re­ceive only a por­tion of the fare.

In the long term it will al­most cer­tainly ben­e­fit our na­tional car­rier to be the dom­i­nant air­line in Africa. In the mean­time we are lucky that, in most cases, Euro­pean or other air­lines are main­tain­ing routes con­nect­ing Cape Town with Europe – still our main source mar­ket for tourism – and Asia.

British Air­ways and Dutch air­line KLM, which fly to Cape Town all year round, have al­ready in­creased the num­ber of flights for the sum­mer.

Sin­ga­pore Air­lines and Turk­ish Air­lines are oth­ers that fly here all year round.

Ger­man air­line Lufthansa, Air France, Vir­gin At­lantic Air­ways and Swiss air­line Edel­weiss are back, of­fer­ing sea­sonal flights.

So is tourism air­line Con­dor, based in Frank­furt – which some Cape Town busi­ness peo­ple find use­ful since Lufthansa’s ser­vice to the city now flies be­tween here and Mu­nich.

Con­dor in fact of­fers a huge choice of des­ti­na­tions to most of Europe and to the UK through con­nect­ing flights from Frank­furt.

How­ever, many of these are sea­sonal and avail­able only in our win­ter months.

GROUNDED: SAA is can­celling its flights to Ar­gentina, say­ing that the ser­vice is op­er­at­ing at a loss.

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