Loss of flights a blow to CT - tourism head

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Copy of saa aircraft INDEPENDENT MEDIA Six hundred and forty disgruntled travellers who had scored the bargain of a lifetime - to fly SAA business class from Joburg to Abu Dhabi return for only R899 - have to put their luggage away because the airline says the hot deal was a big mistake. File photo: Leon Nicholas

Cape Town’s tourism and business sectors fear SAA’s decision to halt its direct flights from Cape Town to London from August 15 will hurt the region’s economy.

Mariëtte du Toit-Helmbold, Cape Town Tourism head, said the cancellation of the direct flights could have a negative effect on tourism arrivals from the UK and the rest of Europe.

“Airlines must make economic sense. When a flight is cancelled, this is the reason. Decreased business travel, as a result of troubled economies, continues to plague key source markets,” she said. The cancellation highlighted the need to market Cape Town as a business destination.

“The business traveller is a major contributor to covering flight expenses, which points to a need to work hard on forging stronger business ties in addition to the leisure market.”

Michael Bagraim, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, described the cancellation as a “sad indictment”.

“They’ve taken the decision at the worst possible time; in winter when fewer people travel to Cape Town and while Europe is going through a major economic slide. Those two factors combined means even fewer people are travelling.”

The chamber has asked SAA to revisit its decision but should the airline not buckle, said Bagraim, the only way the city could cope was if the tourism industry swallowed costs on behalf of customers.

“Tourism people will need to offer to fill seats up for SAA, and offer packages to their customers. They could buy up seats to offer them to those who want to stay in Cape Town as a free leg.

“We will need to follow the likes of Mauritius. They have very carefully put together package tours in which they have bought cheap seats, and the consumers use the majority of their money for the hotel.”

Fedhasa chairman Dirk Elzinga said SAA needed to be mindful of its national responsibility.

Elzinga said the hospitality industry needed to support SAA in its negotiations with the government in its bid for billions of rands in financial aid.

“The hospitality and tourism sector should play its role to demonstrate to the national departments of Tourism and Transport how important the tourism sector is to the national economy.”

Grant Pascoe, mayoral committee member for tourism events and marketing, described the news as a “huge blow” to the city.

“Our aim is to be the best destination for leisure and business. We need to revise our strategy to attract investment and how we will now promote ourselves. We need to start engaging with airlines that are still flying direct about offering more direct flights.” - Cape Argus

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