Low airline capacity hurts SA tourism

South Africa’s tourism industry is currently under pressure from a number of negative factors, the most significant of which is the lack of airline capacity, according to Helder Pereira, managing director of Southern Sun hotels.

Southern Sun is the largest hotel group in the southern hemisphere, with a collection of 80 hotels and more than 13 340 rooms under such brands as InterContinental Southern Sun Hotels; Southern Sun Collection; Crowne Plaza; Southern Sun Timeshare Resorts; Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Garden Court and Express by Holiday Inn; Formule 1 and Formule Inn. Its holding company, Tsogo Sun, is 40% held by global brewing giant SABMiller.

Writing in an opinion piece in Business Day newspaper on Wednesday, Pereira said that it is more the lack of space on airlines than the stronger rand that is having a dampening effect on inbound tourism, citing the Department of Tourism for having failed to negotiate more flights to South Africa recently. He also called for clarification of South African Airways’ role in assisting tourism growth, saying it has a significant role to play.

However, Pereira also said he believes South Africa’s reputation as a competitive, value-for-money tourist destination remains intact, and that the outlook for the key peak season and into 2004 remains good.

This follows on the heels of accusations by Irish developer Pascal Phelan — currently developing the six-star Claridges hotel in Cape Town, part of the Southern Sun collection of hotels — of South African Airways maintaining a near-monopoly on South African flights and thus constraining tourism growth.

“South African routes still occupy the top 10 spots on British Airways’ list of the most popular long-haul destinations from the United Kingdom for the 2003 festive season,” Pereira wrote. “Cape Town rates fifth after New York, Miami, Dubai and Los Angeles, while Johannesburg is 10th.

“Cape Town could have been higher on the list if it weren’t for the policy of the tourism department, which controls air frequencies to South Africa and, through its bilateral negotiations, recently turned down applications for more flights to South Africa and to Cape Town in particular.

“We believe that it is more an issue of air lift than the stronger rand that is negatively affecting inbound tourism to South Africa at the moment … The role of South African Airways to assist in tourism growth needs to be clarified, as there is no doubt that a strong national airline has a significant role to play.”

South African hotels recorded a 5% year-on-year fall in occupancy levels in October, following a 2% year-on-year reduction in September, according to the Deloitte & Touche Hotel Benchmark survey. The survey tracks more than 6 000 hotels outside of North America.

Pretoria saw the highest declines in occupancy levels at 8%, followed by Johannesburg at 7,2%, Cape Town at 7% and Durban slightly lower at 4,5%. — I-Net Bridge

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