I have dedicated the last 10 years of my life to the world of route development, supporting organisations around the globe to improve their air connectivity with a particular passion and focus on Africa. While much of the connectivity that has been built over the last 25 years has been eroded by the pandemic, I know it will return and our work starts now!
The challenge faced by the airports
While airlines have received most of the press coverage about how difficult their situation is, and are also those who have received the most financial support, airports have also been hugely impacted.
In Africa, many airports do not have large enough operations to have diversified to create a decent revenue stream from non-passenger revenues. Therefore, they are dependent on revenues tied directly to aviation activities and passenger throughput. Understandably, across the continent, this revenue has declined massively since the onset of the pandemic, but airports remain vital pieces of a country’s infrastructure and still need to find the funds to ensure a safe operating environment.
To summarise, a huge amount of their operating expenses have remained whilst aeronautical revenues have dwindled.
Added to this, many countries in Africa have not created a separate airport authority and operate with just a Civil Aviation Authority. This is an important point, as it is the airport authority that should have a commercial focus and look for opportunities to increase its revenue, not simply to work as regulator and issuer of invoices.
Top of that list of activities should be to attract an airport’s biggest customer, namely airlines as they not only deliver revenue for the airport but a much bigger impact on the destination they serve.
So where do the DMOs fit in?
According to the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization), in 2017, 57% of all tourists globally arrived at their destination by air.
So it would be fair to deduce that a DMO’s most important customer is the airline as without them, the majority of tourists cannot visit the destination, right?
Therefore, it would make sense that tourism bodies work alongside their airport authority/ CAA to build a business case to attract the airlines, right?
Among other things, one role a Tourist Board plays is to identify suitable source markets and promote the destination in those markets. Outside of immediate neighbours that can visit by road or rail, air transport is the only way to bring the tourists.
In my experience, the vast majority claim that dealing with airlines is the airport’s job.
I ask how and why should that be if these airlines are responsible for bringing over 50% of your incoming tourists and the highest yielding tourists that DMOs are not at least involved in the conversation?
AN AIRLINE FLIES TO A DESTINATION, NOT AN AIRPORT
Over the last 10 years, we have delivered training courses for tourism authorities, provided free access to attend events alongside their airports but the uptake has been limited, perhaps due to the misconception that only airports should talk to airlines. I want to stress that this disconnect is not unique to Africa, but now is the time to change that.
We have already established that airports are under financial pressure and I would venture that it is likely that DMOs will receive financial support before the airports and will be charged with bringing back the tourists.
DMOs should be looking to support their airports to build a business case in the airline’s source market and even support the new route with marketing support and even financial means (within the rules and where affordable).
If I haven’t convinced you yet, ask any airline what they are looking for when they receive a proactive approach from an airport/destination.
Their answer will include a multiple stakeholder approach that engages multilaterally as CAA, Airport Authority and DMO to create a compelling argument to launch a new route and that illustrates how they will support its success. Just listen from 21 minutes to my recent podcast with Nowel Ngala from ASKY Airlines below
The future will be competitive as all destinations look to rebuild and those that adopt a proactive and collaborative approach to route development will recover fastest.
So where to start?
The starting point is to join us on 9-11 June for AviaDev Africa. It’s a free event and offers the tourist boards an audience with their biggest customer, the airlines.
If you are an airport/CAA reading this, maybe now’s the time to share this article and pick up the phone to your DMO and start the ball rolling. Ultimately, we all want the same thing- a speedy recovery of air connectivity.