The Eiffel Tower in Paris

Air France was given an enthusiastic welcome on its return last week to Cape Town, 11 years after withdrawing from the city. Until 1999 its flights to Johannesburg also served Cape Town en route, with each city contributing half the passengers.

This meant, of course, that the plane was half empty between the two cities and it was eventually decided that Johannesburg was a sufficiently busy destination to fill all the seats. In those days, before the globalisation of business, there were far fewer frequent flyers than now and Cape Town attracted fewer foreign tourists.

As the route became busier KLM Royal Dutch Airlines’ daily flights to Cape Town attracted much of the tourism market to and from Europe and when the two airlines were merged under joint management, but with each retaining its individual character, many passengers preferred to fly to Amsterdam and go on to Paris with a frequent shuttle service rather than change from a local to an international flight in Johannesburg.

Now Air France is back, this time with direct, nonstop flights, but at this stage only three a week. Like German airline Lufthansa and British airline Virgin Atlantic, its service is seasonal and it intends to withdraw in winter. However, it has given a significant boost to our tourism industry already.

Pierre Descazeaux, the airline’s senior vice-president for Africa and the Middle East, said it had heavy bookings from both business and leisure travellers but did not seem to have taken any passengers from KLM.

Deon Cloete, the general manager of Cape Town International Airport, believes it will have such a successful season that it will decide to remain all year round, as Emirates and British Airways (BA) do. Both Emirates and BA attract enough passengers to fly here twice a day in summer. Emirates does so all year round, but so far BA has flown only once a day in winter, although it is adding three additional flights a week to its double daily Johannesburg service in March. There are encouraging signs that we may be in for a record tourism season after the lull following the soccer World Cup.

According to Markus Fritz, the new general manager of the Cape Town Hilton International Hotel, and Andrew McLachlan, the development manager of the Rezidor Hotel group, tourism from overseas is growing again.

Fritz said that, despite the troubles in the eurozone, British, German and Dutch tourists were travelling again and his hotel was also attracting visitors from India and China.

McLachlan said that Rezidor’s newest hotel in Cape Town, the Park Inn at the top of the Heerengracht, within walking distance of Cape Town International Convention Centre, was full for its opening last week.

Emirates also flies to Durban – so far the only inter-national airline to serve that city’s new King Shaka Airport. It is still expanding its route network and is now recruiting staff in South Africa to serve its growing number of destinations worldwide. One of the reasons for its popularity is that it provides direct flights to a huge number of destinations, not only to the main airport in each of the countries it flies to. And, like Air France, it sees Africa as an area for expansion.

German airline Lufthansa has also made a welcome return to Cape Town, as it does every summer, with daily flights until the end of March. Hopefully, it may also find demand strong enough to stay for the winter. It switched to a seasonal service at a time when SAA still flew to Germany from Cape Town all year round. But now, in line with a policy of building Johannesburg up as its main international hub, SAA’s only overseas destination served from Cape Town is London, although the Western Cape has a huge number of German residents and does much business with Germany.

The other German airline that used to fly here, Berlin Air, has withdrawn. Lufthansa has added three new connecting flights from its home airport of Frankfurt. It now flies from there to London-Gatwick, to Aberdeen in the north of Scotland and Klagenfurt – a popular destination for skiers during the European winter. - Weekend Argus