Even though South African travellers face unfavourable exchange rates, stagnant economic growth and less disposable income, international travel continues unabated according to flight data from Cape Town Air Access and Travelcheck.co.za.
The August 2019 analysis by Cape Town Air Access, a division of Wesgro, reveals the top outbound destinations for flights originating in and returning to South Africa based on passenger volume recorded between 2016 and 2018. In 2018, the top spots were occupied by regional destinations: Lesotho, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia respectively. Further afield, the top ten is rounded out by the UK, Spain, Mauritius and USA in that order. There was a three percent increase in outbound travel between 2017 and 2018 and the number of outbound departures is forecast to increase by another 3% by the end of 2019.
To understand current outbound travel trends, South African online travel agency Travelcheck.co.za reviewed bookings made through their website in the past two months. In July 2019, London was the most booked destination while Harare was the most popular choice in August. Based on the same data set, Mauritius, Windhoek and Munich remain popular outbound destinations in the past two months. Travelcheck CEO Odette Faling says increased air access has helped offset the limitations imposed on overseas travel in a challenging economy, “While Joburg’s O.R. Tambo Airport remains the main gateway for international flights to and from South Africa, air access from Cape Town has been given a boost by several carriers establishing non-stop flights to the Mother City.”
In 2018, RwandAir, Kenya Airways, Austrian and Cathay Pacific started direct flights to Cape Town. As a result, international passenger numbers at Cape Town International Airport grew by more than 9% last year. Last month, Kenya Airways announced increased frequency between Cape Town and Nairobi. From 27 October, Capetonians will benefit from two additional direct flights on the weekly Nairobi flight schedule.
In 2019, more carriers entered Cape Town’s air access pipeline including United Airlines which is confirmed to take off in December this year. The American carrier began selling tickets between New York City (Newark Airport) and Cape Town earlier this year. The direct transatlantic flight will take at least 14 ½ hours and cover 12,600km. While the flight is a long-haul service, it will decrease the current flight time between Cape Town and the east coast of America by more than four hours and give travellers one-stop access to more than 80 cities across the United States.
Earlier this year, Australian flag carrier Qantas hinted at initiating direct flights to Cape Town although it is unlikely the service will take off before 2022. Furthermore, Wesgro confirmed that they are in advanced talks with Norwegian Airlines to introduce more competition on the Cape Town to London route. Overall, seat capacity between South Africa and international destinations on direct routes increased by 2.8% between 2013 and 2019. “Expanding air access is key in terms of giving South Africans more choices, direct connectivity and ensuring the cost of overseas travel is fair,” Faling said.
Business vs. Leisure travel
Wesgro’s data measured the number of international trips taken for leisure purposes versus those taken for business in 2018. Sixty four percent of outbound international trips from South Africa were for leisure while 36% were for business. This aligns with recent insights gathered by Travelcheck – the research assessed one thousand travellers’ reasons for travel – 57% say leisure is the primary reason to travel overseas, 13% travel for business while 30% say they travel for business and leisure.