Durban09052014Minister of Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk at the Indaba Ministerial Dialogue held at the International Convention Centre.Picture:Marilyn Bernard

Johannesburg - African countries would need to open up airspace by being transparent on the cost of fuel and added airfare taxes in order to encourage more domestic and international travel, the dialogue of African ministers at the Tourism Indaba in Durban heard on Friday.

Host Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said that to open up African skies to the world, individual nations needed to be honest and transparent about the costs of running airlines. He believed that the AU would play a vital role in making sure the importance of tourism was given attention at a continental level.

“At the moment we are losing out on airlines. While more of our airlines are dying, we see more international airlines coming to fly African routes. That kind of activity is good but we want our airlines to also compete internationally.”

Van Schalkwyk called for transparency on local airlines. “People need to know how much national airlines are costing them, check if they are actually profitable and able to compete in the international market. We need to find a solution at different levels, at a continental level. As Africans, we need to change the present grid system of air travel to a more free-flowing system that will lead to a better relationship with other African countries.”

He said there needed to be urgent talks about setting up travel hubs in Africa, citing South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal as possibilities. These hubs would enable tourists to land in one country and be able to visit nearby countries without having to travel to Europe or the Middle East before landing in another African country. “We need to speed up the discussion about hubs because if we leave it to every individual country, it will be difficult to build consensus.

“At the level of individual countries we need to be absolutely transparent about how the aviation fuel prices are set because they are a huge factor in determining airfares. Many governments add on taxes, which the public does not know about because of the untransparent nature of how the prices of aviation fuel are being set.”

He believed that at the level of individual countries, there were a number of unprofitable airlines which had not undergone a process of consolidation. “We need to consolidate to make sure that we have fewer but stronger airlines that can compete with other strong airlines in the world. We have too many small, unprofitable airlines on the continent that are protected by governments.”

Ministers from other African countries agreed that airlines should be a top agenda item for the continent and that private business needed to be part of decisions. Others said the failure of some airlines, such as Air Afrique, which closed in 2002, should be a lesson for many on the continent.

The chairwoman of the African Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was asked by the ministers to put tourism on top of her agenda, said this sector in Africa must now shift from individual countries to a continental project so that countries could use one another’s comparative advantages. “This will also enable tourists to land in one country but be able to travel in a number of other countries and at the same time get more value for their money.”

She added that through the AU’s Agenda 63, tourism had been chosen as an important sector. “The AU has decided that tourism is an important sector, so we want the ministers of tourism to bring their own vision on how they think tourism should develop from now to 2063.”

She added that nest year, the AU would call a first joint meeting of all ministers of transport, tourism and energy in Africa. In that meeting, Dlamini-Zuma said discussions around airlines, visas, passports and intra-continental travel would be discussed. - Business Report