INTO AFRICA: THE LATEST AIRLINES OPENING UP THE CONTINENT

It’s no secret that air access is a crucial driver of tourism. Make it easier – and more affordable – for travellers to get to the destination, and demand will surely follow.

Happily, airlines have identified the rising demand for African travel and a clutch of international carriers are launching new routes and growing frequencies on key routes into the continent.The big winner in 2017 is Victoria Falls, a destination that’s fast regaining its reputation as a must-visit in Africa. After economic and political troubles dented demand in the early 2000s, air access became expensive and inconvenient. The upshot? Travellers stayed away. But that’s all about to change, as a number of carriers pour capacity into the revamped Victoria Falls International Airport.

For starters, South African Airways has upped seats out of Johannesburg, now flying a wide-body Airbus on its daily flight from Johannesburg to the Falls, increasing capacity by 30 per cent. But the big news comes from Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways, both of which are launching direct flights from their hubs in Addis Ababa and Nairobi.

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Ethiopian Airlines (four flights per week) will continue on to Gaborone, while Kenya Airways (three times a week) will carry on to Cape Town. These are in addition to Kenya Airways’ additional service linking Nairobi, Livingstone and Cape Town. Regional carrier Airlink plans to add further capacity to the region from July, launching six flights per week from Victoria Falls to Cape Town.

South Africa’s ‘Mother City’ is certainly building a reputation as an airline hotspot, with a slew of international carriers focusing their efforts on building demand to the city.

Travellers connecting from Europe to Africa should look to Air France, which will increase the number of services on its direct Cape Town-Paris flights from three per week to five from October 2017. This is in addition to its daily services into Johannesburg and other destinations on the continent.

Long a supporter of direct flights to Cape Town, in late 2016 British Airways added to its already popular Heathrow-Cape Town services with direct flights out of Gatwick Airport. Aimed directly at point-to-point leisure travellers, these flights look set to return for the 2017-18 summer season and routinely offer discounted fares in the comfortable Club World cabin.Likewise, package airline Thomas Cook launched services from Gatwick to Cape Town from December 2016, flying in leisure-focused travellers on a fleet of refurbished Airbus A330s. The refitted aircraft include the new Thomas Cook Premium Class offering, with wider seats, extra legroom and bespoke cabin menus.

German carrier Eurowings, part of the Lufthansa Group, also has its eye on Cape Town. While Swiss airline Edelweiss already serves the city in the busy summer season, Eurowings will connect German travellers to Cape Town via its hub at Cologne-Bonn airport. The airline will also launch direct flights from Germany to Hosea Kutako International Airport in Namibia from 12 July, offering easy access to the destination for the thousands of German travellers who visit the country each year.

There’s airline action beyond southern Africa, too. On the back of growing tourism to Rwanda, Rwandair has announced plans to fly direct from Kigali to London Gatwick from 29 May. As the fledgling carrier expands its wide-body long-haul fleet, future expansion plans are set to include New York, India and China. Ethiopian Airlines – which flies to 90 cities on five continents – also recently launched flights to Antananarivo (Madagascar) through its Addis hub, a move set to drive tourism to the popular northern reaches of the ‘red island’.

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Richard Holmes
Richard Holmes is a freelance travel, food and lifestyle writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. His work on African and international destinations has appeared in a wide range of consumer publications both in South Africa and abroad.