Zanzibar offered as cheaper alternative
Ever-popular Mauritius has priced itself out of the market
for many South Africans at present, with the rand at
current levels. However, low-cost airline 1Time is offering
an alternative destination - the exotic spice island of
Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania, that has history, wonderful white beaches, diving and sight-seeing at more
After a successful charter operation there in the last holiday season, 1Time is now offering a scheduled service - from Johannesburg but unfortunately not yet directly from Cape Town - with two flights a week.
It has linked up with hoteliers and tour operators on
Zanzibar to offer package holidays at a range of prices that make it still more affordable. So far, 1Time is the only airline to fly from South Africa to the island itself, although SAA and Air Tanzania offer flights from Johannesburg to Dar-es-Salaam, from where you can catch a ferry to Zanzibar.
I visited the island years ago, before it was developed
for tourism, and realised its potential. It has plantations
growing cinnamon, pepper and cloves that scent the air,
a historical Stone Town dating from the years when it was a centre of Arab trade with the mainland including, sadly, the slave trade, interesting buildings and quaint villages.
A reminder of the days when it was ruled by an Arab
sultan is a lawn, apparently once part of the grounds of
a palace, containing several wells. A guide told us the
ladies of the sultan's harem sat on the coping of these wells every evening while the sultan chose which one would spend the night with him.
This is 1Time's first foothold in the regional market outside South Africa's borders. Both it and rival kulula.com aim at expanding into the regional market and when they succeed prices, which at the moment are kept high because of lack of competition, are certain to come down.
In the meantime, the high price of aviation fuel is causing
many airlines worldwide, including some in Africa, to
prune their route networks and I believe this is the real reason for SAA's decision to withdraw from the Cape Town to Frankfurt route in October. The imperative to become sustainably profitable causes it to concentrate on the highpaying business market rather than leisure travellers and it points out that the route is used mainly by holidaymakers whose numbers drop during our winter - although in fact the flights seem to be extremely busy for most of the week.
Most of the complaints I have received about the plan
to withdraw have come from business travellers, one of
whom, praising the efficiency of Frankfurt Airport, wrote
that SAA's daytime flight was ideal for catching connections to a wide choice of destinations in Germany and surrounding countries.
A hopeful sign is that, rather than contracting further,
SAA will acquire six more aircraft, three wide-bodied for
long-haul routes and three single-aisle for domestic and
regional routes, this year. Both Airbus and Boeing have
been pointing out the advantages of their aircraft but I am told that no decision has been made yet. It seems certain that SAA will have to lease rather than buy aircraft. Apart from anything else, both manufacturers have a huge backlog of orders for their most fuel-efficient planes and have received more during the Farnborough Air Show this week.
Cathay Pacific Airlines, which flies daily from Johannesburg to Hong Kong, will maintain the popular service, although the high fuel prices are causing it to operate the route at a loss and fares will have to rise on August 1. So, if you are planning to fly with them, it will be cheaper to book your flight immediately. Ed Higgs, the general manager in South Africa, tells me the special fares advertised on its website can still be booked.