Africa Aviation: A Lifeline for Tourism and Economies


New air routes are urgently needed in Africa, and national tourism boards should take any opportunity to enhance this for the economic growth of their countries. Africa only has 1.9% of global passenger and cargo air traffic.

At the recent AviaDev Africa workshop, which was hosted in collaboration with the SADC Business Council Tourism Alliance, airline executives stressed tourism boards’ power lies in leveraging market data and industry relationships to convince skeptical carriers of new routes’ long-term viability.

“Tourism is more than just leisure travel. Tourism is a critical economic activity that requires strategic thinking and collaboration across sectors,” said Kojo Bentum-Williams, UN Tourism’s Senior Africa Communications Expert.

Sylvain Bosc, former Chief Commercial Officer of SAA and Fastjet, stressed the importance of demonstrating sustained profitability. “Destination marketing organizations (DMOs) must sell a long-term vision highlighting the destination’s growth prospects and economic impact,” he said. “Creative incentives like co-marketing, reducing airline costs, and quantifying passenger volumes can be more powerful than direct subsidies.”

Bosc noted that DMOs need to “bring new light” to data airlines already have by offering insights into upcoming local economic developments like new mines or infrastructure projects that could drive corporate traffic. “Local insights can provide airlines with the confidence they need to invest in new routes,” he said.

Natalia Rosa, Project Lead of the SADC Business Council Tourism Alliance, underscored the critical role of aviation in regional development: “Aviation is not a luxury, it’s the lifeblood of a modern regional economy. Improved air connectivity unlocks a range of benefits: it streamlines travel, opens doors for new tourism markets, and strengthens regional economic ties.”

Gavin Eccles, Head of Vertical at BAE Ventures, emphasized tourism boards must be “at the table” with compelling cases backed by local market insights, travel trade ties, and unique selling points that airlines often lack.

“Tourism boards should not only provide data but also offer a local perspective that airlines may not have,” Eccles said, citing India’s successful “Incredible India” branding undermined by poor connectivity.

Regional cooperation, such as synchronized visa policies, collaborative itinerary promotion, and utilization of conservation funds, can also contribute to financing the development of routes. However, it is advised by Tim Harris from Helm Growth Advisors that prioritizing the retention and expansion of current airline services should come before attracting new routes.

While direct subsidies face sustainability questions, Bentum-Williams said other incentives enable an “environment of trust” for profit-focused airlines.

“There’s a need to change the narrative from just paying airlines to fly routes to creating an environment of trust and confidence,” he said.

Jillian Blackbeard, CEO of Africa’s Eden Tourism Association, highlighted successful collaboration with Proflight through local stakeholders and trade backing, building airline confidence without major incentives.

“We worked closely with Proflight and local stakeholders to ensure that routes were supported by the trade and the private sector, which helped build confidence in the airline and led to successful route development without significant financial incentives,” Blackbeard shared.

Coordinated efforts leveraging DMOs’ destination expertise can unlock increased connectivity – a lifeline for Africa’s tourism economies long grounded by poor air links.

The AviaDev Africa workshop was designed as a platform for action to address the challenges of the aviation industry and collaborate on solutions.

The SADC Business Council Tourism Alliance is a non-profit, membership-based association that serves as a catalyst for the responsible development of travel and tourism to, from, and within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

Administered by the SADC Business Council, the Tourism Business Alliance seeks to unite apex private sector bodies across the region and other private and public sector tourism stakeholders and partners to boost the value, quality, and sustainable growth of travel and tourism to, from, and within the SADC region.

About the author

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.

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