JOHANNESBURG - Increased international connectivity in the form of direct flights into Durban is set to accelerate tourism and economic growth in the region.
British Airways (BA) commenced in October with three weekly direct flights into King Shaka International Airport to boost the direct international air connectivity to and from the airport that was already provided by Emirates, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Air Mauritius, Pro-flight Zambia and Airlink.
The commencement of the direct BA service coincided with the airline listing Durban for the first time among its Top 19 Must-See Destinations for next year.
The results of research released by Dube TradePort (DTP) revealed that tourism into markets where airlines establish direct flights historically experienced a 30 percent to 40 percent growth within the first year of the route’s establishment.
Hamish Erskine, the chief executive of DTP, said passenger figures had grown significantly since Dubai-based airline Emirates began flying directly into Durban, adding that currently more than 60 percent of the market leaving Durban wanted to travel directly from the city.
“The market is telling us business and tourist travellers in Durban want to be able to fly from King Shaka International Airport and not have to be routed via OR Tambo in Gauteng,” he said.
Rory Wilkinson, the planning director at Tongaat Hulett Developments, who sits on the Route Development Committee that was responsible for developing direct international air connectivity for King Shaka International Airport, said the new route between Heathrow and King Shaka was a significant leap forward not only for the tourism sector, but also as a catalyst for propelling foreign direct investment and improving business connectivity between the two countries as well as with Europe.
Wilkinson added that tourism attractions, such as the proposed new international beach resort on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast by Tongaat Hulett Developments, would maximise local participation and job creation, particularly among lower level skilled people.
However, Wilkinson stressed the ability to attract international tourists via direct flights underpinned these types of investments.
BA announced in May it would include Durban on its direct service when it rolled out a ₤4.5 billion five-year customer investment plan.
The service will complement Durban’s growing connectivity to global hub airports, with the route serviced by BA’s newest aircraft, the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.
Erskine said DTP’s research reflected the importance of secondary cities like Durban and Cape Town, adding the new route would put the city on the map for passenger and cargo loads.
He said Emirates currently flew from Dubai to seven UK destinations daily, including three daily flights to Manchester.
A decade ago this would have been impossible and passengers would have flown to Dubai, then London and transferred to another flight or caught the train to reach Manchester, he said.
Erskine said another example was Dublin in Ireland, where 29 million passengers passed through their airport terminal last year despite the country having a population of only 4 million.
“This is what Durban can achieve. We are putting ourselves on the map and there is the potential to stimulate the market to grow 30 percent to 40 percent in the early years of the operation. But Durban must embrace the power of connectivity,” he said.
Phindile Makwakwa, the chief executive of Tourism KwaZulu-Natal, endorsing Erskine’s comments and stressed the movement of people fostered the movement of capital, effectively boosting the economy.
However, Makwakwa said when people travelled, the ease of connectivity was a key priority to their destination decision and direct links made packaging and selling Durban an easier task.
The DTP operates as a special economic zone (SEZ), with projects providing shareholders with a short-term return and had shifted focus to longer-term initiatives.
Erskine said infrastructure had been put into place ahead of market demand to create conditions for long-term industrial growth.
He said this provided importers and exporters with the opportunity to maximise the DTP’s location at the airport and relative proximity to the Durban port.
In terms of the direct BA flights, there were synergies for trade based on manufacturing, information technology and services in addition to the growth in tourist figures and demand for residential, including holiday homes, and retirement product, he said.
Sihle Zikalala, the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for economic development, tourism and environmental affairs , said earlier this year that international cargo routed through the Dube Cargo Terminal had experienced continuous year-on-year growth since 2010, translating into a 138 percent hike in volumes.
Introducing new passenger flights previously had shown a 25 percent hike in cargo volumes and it was expected that the introduction of the direct BA flight would provide additional bi-directional capacity of approximately 20 tons a flight into the key markets for cargo into and out of KwaZulu-Natal.