OF BRIDGES AND BUBBLES
Richard Holmes gets to the bottom of a potential way to help the ravaged tourism and aviation industries, post-covid-19
ý As the lockdown slowly eases its grip on SA’S tourism industry, all eyes are on the skies for when — and how — our local aviation industry might bounce back.
Tourism supports more than 1-million jobs, contributing about 8% to GDP. And while level 3 of SA’S lockdown has allowed for limited domestic flights, onerous restrictions on who is allowed to travel have put a lid on demand.
“Aviation and tourism are so closely aligned. You need to open aviation to kick-start the tourism industry,” says Airlines Association of Southern Africa CEO Chris Zweigenthal.
According to the Board of Airline Representatives of SA (Barsa), which represents the international aviation industry in SA, the broader air transport sector — including airlines and its extended supply chain — are estimated to support about $5.2bn of SA’S GDP, with spending by foreign tourists adding a further $4.3bn to the tally. A sector supporting 70,000 direct jobs, and contributing close on R170bn, is certainly not to be ignored.
But since airlines were first grounded in late-march the industry has been gutted by the overnight collapse of revenue, with many airlines having exhausted their limited cash reserves.
“It is now critical that air travel opens,” says Carla da Silva, Barsa chair and Air Mauritius regional manager for Southern Africa and Latin America.
“This sector is in dire straits and the disastrous situation has resulted in thousands of South Africans losing their livelihoods.”
The larger question is not only when, or if, aviation should be opened, but rather how. And looking abroad offers a number of examples local tourism and aviation leaders are looking to emulate.
Bridge over troubled waters
Identifying “air bridges” between specific countries is a concept fast taking hold abroad. In early-june one such bridge linked Spain’s Balearic islands and Germany, allowing for thousands of German holidaymakers to visit without quarantine or screening. Iceland has opened travel to Schengen countries, with conditions, while in early-june Singapore established “fast-lanes” — with pre-departure screening and the issuing of a safe travel pass — to promote business travel to specific regions of China.
“It is important for countries to identify low-, medium- and high-risk countries,” notes Da Silva. “While the industry is