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South African Airways (SAA) announced yesterday, June 5, that effective August 16, 2012, passengers travelling from London to Cape Town will fly via the airline’s hub in Johannesburg – OR Tambo International Airport.

SAA has two daily services between London Heathrow and Johannesburg, and will be increasing its capacity on these flights by 13%, through the use of larger aircraft, to accommodate the number of passengers on this route. SAA also offers up to 38 flights daily between Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Said Mariëtte Du Toit-Helmbold, Cape Town Tourism CEO: “This is disappointing news for Cape Town’s tourism industry and we fear it could affect tourism arrivals from the UK and the rest of Europe negatively. Whilst SAA’s growth strategy’s emphasis on expansion of routes into Africa and new markets such as South America and Australasia is encouraging, the issue of direct air access to Cape Town is again highlighted. Airlines must make economic sense. When a flight is cancelled this is the reason. Decreased business travel, as a result of troubled economies, continues to plague key source markets. The business traveller is a major contributor to covering flight expenses, which points to a need to work hard on forging stronger business ties in addition to the leisure market.”

Nils Flaatten, CEO of Wesgro commented: “Our research has indicated that the London to Cape Town route still holds strong economic value for the Western Cape and neighbouring Eastern Cape. International airlines identified this and are increasing their capacity during peak season. Many business and leisure travellers from the United States use London as a connecting [stop] into Cape Town and we are at risk of losing these visitors, as the travelling time has been extended even further. A national debate on airlift strategy is urgently required to discuss direct flights into Cape Town International Airport, as well as the other regional airports. Poor economic conditions in the global north and escalating fuel prices were making it difficult for many international airlines to remain competitive. These market conditions would also have an impact on the pricing of domestic flights and the ability to move tourists throughout South Africa.”

Nils Heckscher, Managing Director of Winchester Mansions commented: “SAA’s announcement to withdraw its Cape Town to London service is a shock and a huge blow to us. Many of our guests, whether from the UK or other European cities have enjoyed this service for its convenience and good timing. The inconvenience of having to go through OR Tambo International may well put off some potential visitors to Cape Town as not all visitors are on a multi-city itinerary. However, the fact that aircraft will be redeployed to better serve SAA’s growing Accra, Mumbai and Perth routes, and to add Abidjan to the network, is positive news for the development and growth of new leisure and business tourism markets.”

SAA has confirmed that they will continue to use Cape Town as a drawcard in their marketing promotions and campaigns, and Cape Town Tourism and Wesgro will continue to seek joint marketing opportunities with SAA in the markets they operate in, to complement demand-driving marketing strategy and campaigns. Said Du Toit-Helmbold, “The announcement further strengthens the need for consolidated marketing efforts in our destination between the different spheres of government, agencies and the private sector. It is also important to focus on growing our business tourism sector and the demand for Cape Town as a competitive and year-round business tourism destination."

Councillor Grant Pascoe, Cape Town Mayoral Committee Member for Tourism, Events and Marketing concluded, “In order to sustain tourism in Cape Town, we need to counter seasonality with year-round inbound tourism. It is vital that flights to Cape Town remain consistent throughout the year. The only way we can secure more direct flights to Cape Town is by stimulating both business and leisure tourism demand for Cape Town. This will translate in more visitors and ultimately more jobs for the sector, year round. Perception does not shift overnight – and it needs proof – the industry must stand together to tackle our tourism weaknesses and grow a more complex offering of product to multiple markets. Leisure and business visitors need to see that Cape Town is a 365-day destination for a thousand good and different reasons.”

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