- 23 Mar 2022
- Felipe Reisch
- AvBuyer Africa Articles
While business travel is more common through private air charter solutions across Africa, luxury leisure travel is still a prominent feature. The question is whether there has been an increase in high-end private air travel? Sherryn de Vos explores…Back to Articles
After an incredibly tough two years, things seem to be looking up for private aviation travel. Charter companies across Africa are undoubtedly seeing an increase in interest in private travel. And that goes not only for business travel, like in the past, but leisure travel too.
What does this growth look like, and where has it stemmed from? Is private high-end travel becoming more regular due to independent private wealth increasing in Africa? Or is a growth in accessibility to private jets, and the necessary resources, a contributing factor?
Underlying Factors of Private Travel Increase
The first, obvious point to consider is the impact of the global pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the last two years saw intense shifts in the industry as a result of Covid. While the scheduled airlines faltered due to restrictions and lockdowns, private travel soared.
Charter travel demand increased significantly. From the outset, repatriation flights accounted for a surge in enquiries and bookings, but since the beginning of the pandemic, private travel has maintained its acceleration of growth.
This growth is attributed to various factors. In 2020, rapid decision-making from the government regularly adjusted the lockdown level in South Africa, impacting curfew times, often with only a day’s notice. Commercial airlines were frequently left scrambling to adjust their schedules and re-organize flights, leaving passengers out of pocket, stranded, and generally frustrated.
Moreover, health and safety concerns, especially on packed airlines, saw one-time private travel customers evolving into regular, repeat customers.
In fact, air charter companies were inundated with a record number of private travel enquiries during the Omicron phase of Covid. During November 2021, at the height of Omicron, more enquiries were captured than the total number of queries recorded in the nine months prior in the case of most companies.
The wealthy wanted, and needed, to travel. Whether for business or leisure, private aviation simply became the go-to during this time within Southern Africa.
A Pre-Existing Growth Trend?
An important question is whether the industry was already on a growth-curve prior to Covid-19? Already in 2019, the African region had 474 registered private jets. Although this was the second smallest fleet worldwide, it was indeed displaying remarkable growth, year on year.
South Africa leads the continent for private jet ownership, accounting for approximately 30% of the business jets in Africa. (Nigeria follows with around 19% of the fleet, while the third-largest fleet resides in Egypt, at about 8%.)
The industry is poised to grow exponentially between 2020 and 2028, with growth rates expected to be between 2% and 8%, year on year. And although business travel dominated the industry, private charters for leisure purposes made up a significant proportion of the demand.
Prior to Covid, demand had started increasing significantly from both local tourists as well as foreign visitors. National and provincial tourism efforts focused on promoting local initiatives, and leisure travel saw significant increases in the years leading up to Covid-19.
Southern Africa had become a go-to destination for affordable, good value leisure travel. For international tourists, there was significant “bang for their buck” in private air travel, and private flights in and around South Africa were hugely popular, especially for remote getaways and safari experiences.
Although local ‘money’ made up some of the leisure tourism, a significant amount of travelers were from abroad, and this, in the face of Covid-19, took a significant hit.
Will the Tourism Industry Recover?
Although business travel has mostly kept private air charter companies afloat during these last two years, there have been some utterings from the leisure sector.
Foreign travel dipped catastrophically during the pandemic, and South African government statistics reveal the effect on private air travel. A comparison between the movements in January 2020 and January 2021 indicates that the volume of arrivals, departures and travelers in transit decreased for both South African residents and foreign travelers.
For South African residents, the volume of arrivals decreased by 83.8% from January 2020 to January 2021. Overall departures decreased by 80.6%, and transits decreased by 93.5%. For foreign travelers, arrivals decreased by 87.7%, departures decreased by 89.1% and transits decreased by 91.3%.
In total, the number of travelers who used air transport throughout the year was a mere 31.4% of what it had been at the same time the previous year.
But, 2022 looks set to sing a different tune. With restrictions being relaxed, borders opening, and the private charter industry still standing, high-end tourism will be the next cash cow. Already, there has been significant increases in tourist bookings and enquiries.
Air charter services are gearing up for an array of tourists, looking to shake the travel cobwebs – and South Africa is first on the list for the budget-friendly, unique experiences it has to offer.
According to Jolande Parrott, Manager at charter operator NAC, “Charter for leisure travel remains a premium means by which you can experience your own country, or the world; all of this whilst ensuring a safe and comfortable travelling experience with known passengers, from a convenient departure and arrival point of your choosing, and on your preferred schedule.”
The Bottom Line
Southern Africa has a unique positioning when it comes to tourism. It has a wide offering of experiences, and creates some of the most unique opportunities in the world for high-end tourists.
For international tourists coming into the country, the exchange rate works significantly in their favor, ensuring high-end experiences and travel, which might be unachievable in their home countries, are entirely accessible on the southern tip of Africa.
This, together with the fact that business travel is increasing, and is having a knock-on effect on leisure travel, is breathing the needed life into air charter solutions and holds significant promise for the industry for the next five years.
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