Better air connectivity within Africa is vital to unlock the continent's economic potential, according to Tim Harris, CEO of the Western Cape's investment and trade promotion agency Wesgro.
Harris was one of the opening speakers at the 4th AviaDev aviation development conference in Cape Town.
"Last year this time Cape Town was in a drought, and tourism growth took a knock due to the news spreading globally, directly impacting international airlines flying to the city," said Harris. "So, the real test is how resilient you are in the face of a crisis."
Earlier this month Harris described as a "game-changer" the announcement by United Airlines that it intends launching a new non-stop flight between the US and Cape Town.
He credits the role the collaborative partnership of Cape Town Air Access played in the process of launching the flight, especially because it required cooperation at various levels - from national to local authorities, as well as within the private sector.
Growth despite drought, Brexit
"We experienced seriously high growth in the years before the drought hit and impacted our international tourism arrivals," said Harris.
"At the same time, the UK's issues with Brexit probably also made an impact on arrivals from that market."
Despite these challenges, Harris said there had been 8.5% growth in international arrivals at the Cape Town International Airport.
Top African growth markets
In 2018, six other African countries were among the top-15 source markets for international arrivals by air to Cape Town, especially from Zimbabwe.
Wesgro sees the top African growth markets for Cape Town international air arrivals to include Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Morocco.
RwandAir starting to fly to Cape Town last year played a big role in the growth in arrivals from Zimbabwe and Rwanda, said Harris. The airline has decided to increase its frequencies to the Mother City.
Furthermore, the growth in arrivals from Egypt and Morocco took place despite the lack of of non-stop connectivity to Cape Town at present.
"This shows that we need better connections between Cape Town and North Africa and the unserved markets in West Africa," said Harris.
Last year RwandAir, Austrian Airlines and Cathay Pacific started to fly to Cape Town, adding access to four new destinations, namely Kigali, Harare, Vienna and Hong Kong.
There were also seven international route expansions from Cape Town by, among others, Kenya Airways, TAAG, Airlink, Air Namibia, Condor, Edelweiss and Singapore Airlines.
Since 2015, four new African airlines started flying to Cape Town, namely Ethiopian Airlines, TAAG, Kenya Airways and RwandAir.
Harris is also very pleased with the recent announcement that United Airlines plan to start a seasonal 3 times a week direct flight from the US to Cape Town in December 2019.
According to Harris this will cut the travel time from Cape Town to Newark, New Jersey by 8 hours.
"It shows that United Airlines wants to tap into the African growth story," said Harris.
He added that Wesgro also wants to look at how the offering of connectivity between Cape Town and safari experiences in the north of SA can be improved, since there is a demand for it.