International connectivity gives KwaZulu-Natal the edge

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Tongaat Hulett Developments planning director, Rory Wilkinson says the new route between Heathrow and King Shaka is a significant leap forward not only for the tourism sector, but also as a catalyst for propelling foreign direct investment Tongaat Hulett Developments planning director, Rory Wilkinson says the new route between Heathrow and King Shaka is a significant leap forward not only for the tourism sector, but also as a catalyst for propelling foreign direct investment

Increased connectivity in the form of international direct flights into Durban, has paid off so well for tourism sector and economic growth in KwaZulu-Natal region.

Last year, British Airways (BA) commenced in October with three weekly direct flights into King Shaka International Airport to boost the direct international air connectivity to and from the airport that was already provided by Emirates, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Air Mauritius, Pro-flight Zambia and Airlink. 

Tourism into markets where airlines establish direct flights historically experience a 30-40% growth within the first year of the route’s establishment, according to research released recently by Dube TradePort (DTP).

The commencement of the direct BA service coincided with the airline listing Durban for the first time among its Top 19 Must-See Destinations for next year. 

KwaZulu-Natal economic development, tourism and environmental affairs MEC Sihle Zikalala said international cargo routed through the Dube Cargo Terminal had experienced continuous year-on-year growth since 2010, translating into a 138% hike in volumes.

Introducing new passenger flights previously has shown a 25% hike in cargo volumes, and it is expected that the introduction of the direct BA flight will provide additional bi-directional capacity of approximately 20 tons per flight, into the key markets for cargo into and out of KZN.

BA chairman and CEO Álex Cruz said Durban’s warm water, hot summers and laid-back atmosphere made the coastal city “the perfect holiday destination” and a gateway to nature reserves, parks and historic sites.

“Durban has a thriving food, drink and art scene, defining the city as a must-visit for culture and adventure. It is also home to the busiest port in South Africa and is a large manufacturing hub, so the new route will secure another important link between the UK and the region that will be a welcome addition for business travellers,” he said.

Hamish Erskine, the chief executive of DTP, said passenger figures had grown significantly  since Dubai-based airline Emirates began flying directly into Durban, adding that currently more than 60 percent of the market leaving Durban wanted to travel directly from the city.

“The market is telling us business and tourist travellers in Durban want to be able to fly from King Shaka International Airport and not have to be routed via OR Tambo in Gauteng,” he said. 

Endorsing Erskine’s comments, Tourism KwaZulu-Natal CEO Phindile Makwakwa says the movement of people fosters the movement of capital, effectively boosting the economy. However, when people travel, the ease of connectivity is a key priority to their destination decision and direct links make packaging and selling Durban an easier task.

Tongaat Hulett Developments planning director Rory Wilkinson, who sits on the Route Development Committee which is responsible for developing direct international air connectivity for King Shaka International Airport, says the new route between Heathrow and King Shaka is a significant leap forward not only for the tourism sector, but also as a catalyst for propelling foreign direct investment and improving business connectivity between the two countries as well as with Europe.

Operating as a special economic zone (SEZ), the DTP began with projects providing shareholders with a short-term return and has shifted focus to longer-term initiatives. Erskine says infrastructure has been put into place ahead of market demand to create conditions for long-term industrial growth. This provides the opportunity for importers and exporters to maximise  the DTP’s location at  the airport and relative proximity to the Durban port. In terms of the direct BA flights, there are synergies for trade based on manufacturing, information technology and services in addition to the growth in tourist figures and demand for residential (including holiday homes) and retirement product.

Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) figures reflect South Africa’s tourism sector directly contributed 2.9% towards the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016 (the latest available figures), making the sector a more significant contributor than agriculture, but with substantial growth potential relative to competing destinations.

During the 2018 International Travel Trade Show in March, South African Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona said the local tourism industry must be nurtured for its sustained and inclusive growth. Despite the challenges tourism has endured in recent years, it outperformed other key industries in terms of job creation and added another 40 000 net new jobs to the economy in the inclusive five-year period 2012 to 2016.

Wilkinson says tourism attractions like the proposed new international beach resort on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast by Tongaat Hulett Developments will maximise local participation and job creation, particularly among lower-level skilled people. However, underpinning these types of investments is the ability to attract international tourists via direct flights.

Erskine says DTP research reflects the importance of secondary cities like Durban and Cape Town and the new route will put the city on the map for passenger and cargo loads. Emirates currently flies from Dubai to seven UK destinations daily, including three daily flights to Manchester. A decade ago this would have been impossible, and passengers would have flown to Dubai, then London and transferred to another flight or caught the train to reach Manchester.

Another example is Dublin, Ireland, where 29 million passengers passed through their airport terminal in 2017, for a country with a population of only 4 million.

“This is what Durban can achieve – we are putting ourselves on the map and there is the potential to stimulate the market to grow 30-40% in the early years of the operation, but Durban must embrace the power of connectivity,” he says.


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