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Criticism over SAA routes

"The region as a whole needs a strategic plan", says Danny Bryer, director of Sales, for the Protea Hospitality Group.
By Francisco Aldaya
Herald staff

Following cancellation of only direct flight to BA

Leaders in the tourism industry are criticizing the recent decision by South African Airways to shut down the only direct flight to Buenos Aires as a short-sighted move that could put an end to a recent upswing in travelers that used South Africa as a hub to travel to the continent.

For its part, the airline dismisses the criticism, saying it was merely a financial decision that will have no bearing on how the airline will continue to push South Africa as an attractive destination from its offices in Buenos Aires that will remain open.

One thing both sides agree on: the cancellation comes as travel from Argentina to South Africa has been on the rise.

In the first seven months of the year, 11,765 Argentines travelled to South Africa, 2.6 percent more than in the same period of 2012. Yet that dwarfs the numbers from Brazil, where 45,934 made the trip to South Africa, a 2.3 percent more than the same time last year.

Although that growth may not seem like much in percentage terms, sector leaders emphasize that it is important to see the numbers in context and the rise in 2012 was astronomical. Last year, the number of Argentines travelling to South Africa for at least one night soared 26.8 percent, rising to 17,514. Brazil also had a huge growth in outflow, rising 44.7 percent to 78,376.

Asked how the Springboks will travel to Argentina for next year’s Rugby Championship, Danny Bryer, the Director of Sales, Marketing and Revenue for the Protea Hospitality Group, the largest hotel chain in Africa, joked that South Africa will probably have to send them on a ship.

South African Airways insists Argentines will still be able to travel to South Africa via a brief stopover in Sao Paulo, but capacity issues are likely to become a problem.

The majority of seats on the daily direct flight between Sao Paulo and Johannesburg are taken up by corporate travellers that not only go to South Africa but use it as a hub to then transfer to other countries in the region, mostly big oil producers like Angola, Namibia and Botswana. That means there is hardly any seat capacity left for leisure travellers.

No increased frequency from Sao Paulo has been announced.

Bryer has strongly criticized the move, bemoaning that the state-owned airline had pushed the private sector to invest heavily in promoting tourism in Argentina, only for the flight to be cancelled without notice.

“Surely we should continue the process,” he told the Herald last week in a phone interview from South Africa.

The airline dismisses the criticism as an exaggeration, saying there is no reason why Argentine tourism to South Africa can’t continue to grow.

“The decision is part of a long term strategy,” South African Airways Argentina Manager Diego Disabato told the Herald, adding that the private sector did not have to be consulted about an internal company decision. “It’s true that Argentine tourism to South Africa has grown, but it remains very seasonal, restricted mainly to January and February.”

Although Bryer agrees the airline is within its rights to make whatever decision it thinks is best for its finances, the issue should have been discussed with the private sector that was taken by surprise with the news.

“I have no qualms against South African Airways regarding their financial decision, but the region as a whole needs a strategic plan,” he said.

Just because the direct flight is ending, that doesn’t mean the airline does not have a strategic plan to continue increasing tourism from Argentina or that the airline does not see South America as a priority, Disabato insisted. In fact, the airline has earmarked Argentina and Brazil “as new emerging markets” where there is a big potential for growth, Disabato said.

“Our offices in Buenos Aires will remain open so we will keep promoting South Africa as we have done,” Disabato said. “Our goal is to maintain the same level of passengers because Argentina is still of interest to the airline.”

Although there is no news about a potential increase in frequency from Sao Paulo, Disabato said he would support the decision considering that now “Sao Paulo will have to supply the whole region.”

@franma1990

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