Friday, 7 July 2017

AFRICA: Fleeing Airline Staff Avoid Irate Passengers After Flight Cancellations, Still More Africans Travel

Africans are increasingly driving the growing demand for tourism in their home continent, contrary to perceptions, a new UN report suggests.

International visitor numbers to Africa more than doubled from 1995-2014.

While an average of four out of 10 of them were from other African countries, the figure rose to two out of three in sub-Saharan Africa.

Analysts say liberalising air transport and further relaxing visa rules could boost tourism further.
It currently accounts for nearly 9% of the continent's economy.

The latest figures are in a report by the UN conference on trade and development (Unctad), entitled Economic Development in Africa Report 2017: Tourism for Transformative and Inclusive Growth.

International visitor numbers averaged a rise of 6% a year, going from 24 million in 1995-98, to 56 million between 2011 and 2014.

The sector supports more than 21 million jobs - or 1 in 14 jobs - on the continent. International tourists arrivals and tourism revenues grew at 6% and 9% over 20 years.

Over the next decade continued growth is projected to add an extra 11 million jobs in Africa.The report adds that to realise the potential of tourism within Africa for the continent's economic growth, governments should take steps to liberalise air transport, promote the free movement of persons, ensure currency convertibility and, crucially, recognise the value of African tourism and plan for it.

The African Union last year launched an African passport to ease travel, however, this is only available to a few officials at the moment.

Although Ghana last year announced that it would drop visa requirements for other African nationals, in some countries it can be easier for citizens of Western countries to get visas, than fellow Africans.

It can also be very hard, and expensive, to fly between different African countries.

The UN report said speeding up the visa process can have relatively fast and tangible impacts.

In Rwanda, the abolition of visa requirements for fellow members of the East African Community in 2011 helped increase intraregional tourists from 283,000 in 2010, to 478,000 in 2013," the report said.

Flying between the West African capitals of Freetown and Banjul should take about an hour. But because of the region's poor air connections, it can be quicker and easier to fly via Morocco or Belgium, although that could take a day, or even three.

To Travel to Gambia from Sierra Leone, this journey of 700km (400 miles) should take about an hour and The Gambia is a popular tourist destination, which is served by charter flights from across Europe.

But there are just two flights a week from Freetown..

One option would have been to fly with Royal Air Maroc via Casablanca, where there can be a stopover of 30 hours with no automatic entitlement to hotel accommodation.

So it is actually quicker, but far more expensive, to fly to Belgium's capital Brussels and then connect to Banjul.
That "only" takes 24 hours.

Another option would have been with Air Cote D'Ivoire, a relatively new kid on the aviation block.
This would mean flying via its hub in Abidjan, then to Dakar and onward to Banjul.

However, one needs to stay overnight in Abidjan, and possibly another night in Dakar to be able catch Brussels Airlines which is virtually the only reliable means of flying to Banjul from the Senegalese capital.

So the journey time would take three days.In the end, the best option is to drive from Freetown to Conakry, before flying to Dakar, Senegal's capital, where you need to spend a night to get my connecting flight to Banjul the following day.

You may spend two days travelling for a trip that should take slightly over an hour.

To return you may have to fly from Banjul to Dakar, spend the night and fly next evening to Conakry.

You will meet more travellers most of them business people who complain about flights, saying it makes travel more expensive.

You will have to change your ticket to fly from Banjul via Brussels to Nairobi because your airline may cancel flights to Dakar, from where you may be scheduled to connect to Nairobi.

You may have to wait two days which will cost you time and money to wait another two days at least to fly to Nairobi via Dakar.

Several African countries established national airlines after independence, mainly focusing on flights to destinations outside the continent.

Many of these carriers were propped up financially and protected by regulation, stifling competition and leaving domestic and regional routes undeveloped for a long time.

Safety has also been an issue because of comparatively high accident rates, and regulators outside Africa have imposed heavy restrictions.

Even some African airlines with good safety records are blocked from flying to the European Union (EU) airports because of a lack of confidence in African safety regulators.

Another factor is that some African countries have still not opened up their skies to each other,allowed other countries' carries to use their airports, yet they have opened up to carriers from other continents. Nigeria a typical example.

As a result, it is often cheaper to fly from an African city via London, Amsterdam, or Dubai and back to a neighbouring African city than to travel direct.

Non-African airlines currently fly about 80% of intercontinental traffic to and from Africa.

The Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), a policy of the African Union, is due to be introduced this year.
Implementing the SAATM, which is similar to the EU's single aviation market, would go a long way towards making African air travel more competitive by reducing protectionist policies.

Half a century after independence, many African countries still have better transport links with their former colonial powers than their neighbours!

There are several flights a day from former British colony The Gambia to London, but very few to neighbouring Senegal.
Senegal's capital, Dakar, is of course well served with flights to its former colonial master, France.

One reason for the lack of flights between major West African cities is the collapse of regional airlines such as Ghana Airways, Air Senegal and several in Nigeria.

Some West African states have tried to address this by setting up a new airline, ASKY, based in the Togolese capital, Lome where a massive airport expansion is underway.

It was established in 2008 but does not yet connect all West African countries.

One expert in the aviation industry says the passenger flow in West Africa is very low, so it does not make business sense to fly some routes.

With sensible and business-friendly tax regime the situation would improve.
The Vice-President of KLM Africa, Frank Legre, told journalists in Freetown recently that the cost of a plan ticket to London largely consisted of taxes.

A ticket London will cost $825 yet KLM actual price without tax is $350, which shows that over $500 tax has been levied on the ticket.

While it is true that many West Africans cannot afford to fly, the middle-class is increasing and if prices were lower, more people would develop the habit of flying and so it might become profitable for airlines to link West African cities before too long.

In the meantime, the idea of free movement of goods and services as envisioned by the founding heads of state of the regional body Ecowas remains a dream.

The Nigerian government announced a takeover of the country's biggest airline,Arik Air to prevent it closing. But this is just the latest example of problems in Nigeria's aviation industry.

The government agency (Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria) now responsible for supervising the airline said the decision was made to instill sanity in the country's aviation sector and to prevent a major catastrophe.

Customer service at Arik Air is at times non-existent. When the airline cancels a flight, most of the time its ground staff flee rather than deal with the fallout from irate passengers.

As the company's troubles mounted at the end of last year, 70% of its international flights were delayed.
The firm's staff bear the brunt for an airline that even by Nigerian standards is a byword for utter dysfunction. Last month the company was forced to issue a plea for passengers not to attack its employees.

The government agency that pushed the airline into receivership reeled off an astonishing rap sheet of Arik's alleged offences - enormous debt, bad governance, and erratic operational challenges.

As Nigeria's biggest airline, the government decided that it could not allow the company to collapse.

But to fly Arik often means never getting off the ground.

A passenger was at Enugu airport when he was told his flight was cancelled. The man beside him at the check-in desk just shook his head, all his flights had been cancelled for the past two days.

To survive Nigerian air travel means coming up with new strategies. First, find the most reliable airline and stick with it. And, if possible, take the first flight in the morning as it's normally guaranteed to go on time,give or take an hour.

Delays become compounded throughout the day as most airlines operate a shuttle service. So a good bet is that a mid-afternoon flight will probably turn into early evening flight. Passengers normally only miss their flight if it actually leaves on time.
Nobody wants to spend too much time at the airports here. Port Harcourt was named the world's worst in 2015.

You may always feel safe on flights apart from after a rocky landing when several of the overhead luggage bins burst open.

To be fair to the airlines, Nigeria is not the easiest place to operate. International carriers face huge issues repatriating their profits as they can't get their hands on dollars because of Nigeria's current economic crisis.
The dollar shortage has also led to aviation fuel shortages causing massive disruption in the past few months.

The worst inconvenience faced travellers to Nigeria when Abuja's airport was closed for six weeks while major repairs were carried out on its runway. At least one airline damaged its landing gear on the pot-holed tarmac.

With the capital's only airport shut down, the government rerouted flights to an airport in the nearby city of Kaduna.
The small airport had capacity to handle only 300 passengers a day compared to the 5,000 who pass through Abuja's terminal. You can imagine how chaotic it was

Travelling to the capital from Kaduna involved a two-hour journey along a road that was hit by a spate of kidnappings. The government is promised to put on extra security.

Several international airlines declined to fly into Kaduna, although direct flights to Lagos, Kano or Port Harcourt will continued.

There are, however, a few perks about air travel in Nigeria: Free snacks onboard; unbelievably cheap excess baggage and the fact that you can board with as much carry-on luggage as you can actually carry on.

Also, during a year's travel in Nigeria, bags have always arrived on time.Delayed passengers may give you great company while waiting at the airport.

Attacks by the Islamic State group have led to a dramatic fall in tourism in parts of North Africa, where millions rely on the trade to make a living.

New figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) show that visits to North Africa fell by 8% in 2015, bucking a global upward trend.

International tourism grew by 4.4% overall, to reach a total of 1.18bn arrivals, according to the UNWTO.
But countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco have been hit hard.

Beach resorts such as Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, where a passenger jet was loaded with a bomb in November, and Sousse in Tunisia, where gunmen opened fire at holidaymakers in June, have seen visitor numbers sharply decline.

Some 3,500 British tourists left Tunisia in the days after the Sousse attack, in which 38 people 30 of them British were shot by Islamist gunman at the Port El Kantaoui resort.

Tunisia was still reeling from an attack in March, when gunmen killed 22 people at the Bardo museum in Tunis, mostly European tourists. And the country was still attempting to reinvigorate tourism following the Arab Spring.

Egypt was also trying to rehabilitate its image after the 2011 uprising there, and had been promoting the Sharm el-Sheikh resort as a safe and luxurious destination. But the plane crash, which killed 148 people and was attributed to IS, led a number of foreign countries to ground all flights to and from the resort.

Morocco has not suffered directly from terrorism, but the Foreign Office does warn potential travellers that they face a high threat from terrorism in the country.

Limited data available for Africa as a whole suggested that tourism was down by 3% to 53m - 8% in North Africa and 1% in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Strong continued growth in other parts of the world meant that global tourism rose, although no individual region saw gains as high as North Africa's decline.

Europe, the Americas, and Asia and the Pacific all recorded about 5% growth. Arrivals reached 609 million in Europe, 29 million more than in 2014. Arrivals in the Americas grew 9 million to 191 million and Asia and the Pacific recorded 277 million, 13 million more than last year.

Arrivals to the Middle East increased by 3% to a total of 54 million.

China is among the largest sources of tourists, according to the UNWTO, benefitting Asian destinations such as Japan and Thailand, as well as the United States and various European countries.

The number of tourists from Russian and Brazil declined significantly, reflecting the economic constraints in both countries.
Citing a larger degree of uncertainty and volatility, the UNWTO has predicted between 3.5% and 4.5% of growth in global tourism in 2016.

Tourism Observer
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