SAA decision ‘will affect tourism’

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South African Airways is pulling the plug on direct flights from Cape Town to London – and local tourism roleplayers have expressed disappointment and concern about the move.

SAA announced on Tuesday passengers flying from Cape Town to London will from August 15 be re-routed via Johannesburg. This means that only British Airways will now offer the direct route service, and Virgin Air in the summer months.

Declining passenger numbers to the UK and increasing airport taxes in that country were among reasons for ending its 20-year Cape Town-London service, SAA general manager (commercial) Theunis Potgieter said.

“This will be a great setback for local tourism as it will not only cause a major inconvenience for passengers, but also add to their costs. It makes our jobs harder to market Cape Town as a destination,” mayco member for tourism, marketing and events Grant Pascoe said on Tuesday night.

He said SAA’s decision would affect a local strategy to position Cape Town as the main destination in the country and Africa.

“We are hoping there is still room to reconsider this (SAA) decision. Tourism is a major creator of jobs and if visitor numbers dropped, jobs in the industry would be effected,” Pascoe said.

Cape Town Tourism chief executive Mariette Du Toit-Helmbold did not know the immediate impact on jobs, but said it would be monitored.

“This is disappointing news. While SAA’s growth strategy’s emphasis on expansion into Africa and new markets like South America and Australasia is encouraging, the issue of direct air access to Cape Town is again highlighted. Airlines must make economic sense,” she said.

Du Toit-Helmbold said decreased business travel due to troubled economies, continued to plague key markets.

“The only way we can secure more direct flights to Cape Town is by stimulating demand for Cape Town,” she said. Finance, Economic Development and Tourism MEC Alan Winde said: “It is bad news for us, but SAA has been losing its market share.”

While SAA’s plans could threaten jobs, the impact might not be that great as competing airlines would take up the slack, Winde said.

“The real job losses will be at SAA,” he said.

Potgieter said SAA had two daily services between Johannesburg and London, and would increase these flights by 13 percent. - Cape Times

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