The Dynamic Role of BizAv in Africa’s Tourism Industry

Business Aviation connects leisure travelers to Africa’s vast and remote tourism hotspots while simultaneously boosting local economies. But how does this work, and what other related roles does it play? Felipe Reisch explores…

Felipe Reisch  |  23rd February 2024
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    Felipe Reisch
    Felipe Reisch

    Felipe Reisch works as a public relations consultant for private aviation companies worldwide, leading...

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    How Business Aviation helps Africa's tourism trade

    Business Aviation has various purposes in Africa’s tourism industry. Connecting remote locations, it provides a vital link for national parks, reserves, and the communities that essentially depend on the tourism trade to survive and thrive.

    According to Torben Rune, Managing Director of Kenya-based Scenic Air, most of the runways used are bush airstrips owned by local communities, ranch owners, or national parks. “They charge landing fees as well as park or conservancy fees which directly benefit the local community and often the wildlife in the area.

    “Each of the clients delivered by air into these areas will generate substantial income for the community during their stay,” he adds.

    The nature of the airstrips makes rugged turboprop aircraft ideal for carrying tourists to their destinations, including the Cessna Caravan and Grand Caravan, Daher Kodiak, and Pilatus PC-12 models.

    “Tourism has the potential to generate connections with additional industries including farming, fishing, produce, etcetera, and it is needed and used in many underdeveloped countries, where it is an important source of revenue,” a spokesperson at the African Business Aviation Association (AfBAA) explains.

    With relatively poor road and rail infrastructure across the continent, ground travel can be arduous – uncomfortable at best, and even dangerous depending on the area it leads through.

    Aviation offers a fast, reliable alternative for tourists to get to their destinations. And the sheer size of the national parks and game reserves (the biggest being Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft National Park which consists of almost 20,000 square miles) means that air travel may be the only way to optimize the experience and cover the vast territories.

    The African Business Aviation Association stresses the importance for travelers to only choose trusted and professional members of AfBAA and the Air Charter Association (ACA), whose staff are all committed to providing safe and legitimate flights.

    “They’re also subject to rigorous safety oversight by national authorities,” AfBAA’s spokesperson says. “They must adhere to a strict set of regulations including specific standards for aircraft maintenance, flight operations, ground operations, crew experience and training, and increased insurance, all of which protect the safety of passengers and crew.”

    Of course, with more safety comes an increased set of regulations, making it more specialized and expensive for operators and leisure travelers alike.

    When BizAv Serves as an ‘Eye in the Sky’

    But there’s much more than ferrying tourists from one place to another to consider when it comes to the relationship between Business Aviation and Africa’s tourism trade.

    Africa is home to many impressive and rare wildlife species, and is a draw for poachers seeking wealth via the black market for ivory and furs, for example. And with such vast expanses, identifying illegal activity, other threats, conservation needs and maintenance requirements is also best achieved from the air.

    According to Simon Penfold, Sales Director of Scenic Air, “Protecting wildlife from poachers or stopping encroachment into wildlife areas by communities is a key aspect provided by Business Aviation in the natural reserves, with slower STOL models being the aircraft of choice in regions like East Africa.

    “Nowadays with surveillance technology being so much more advanced and lightweight, more kit can be carried to track movements and identify potential threats to not only wildlife, but infrastructure over larger – and often extremely challenging – terrain.”

    The effectiveness of these operations depends largely on proper planning carried out by specialized professionals, usually ex-military pilots working within the private sector, as well as the substantial costs of surveying large extensions of land.

    “The cost associated with the operations is a limiting factor,” Penfold adds. “[This is] usually covered by well-funded NGOs who also have the attention of – and the ability to approach – law enforcement and government agencies to collaborate with.”

    There are several places that benefit from this capability, yet those that benefit the most are obviously the largest areas that are difficult to patrol or control on the ground. 

    “In Kenya, the best-known expanse is the Tsavo, Chyulu, and the Amboseli ecosystem where aircraft and helicopters are used to patrol and give reports, and also to undertake animal rescue and protection,” Rune adds.

    In terms of the type of aircraft deployed, Rune lists the Piper PA-18 Super Cub as the aircraft of choice at many conservancies in their anti-poaching efforts, while there’s also the Cessna C172, C180/C185, and various gyrocopters being used.

    Barriers for Tourism-Related Business Aviation

    Though there are several challenges to Africa’s Business Aviation tourism-related industry, currently one of the biggest relates to the regulations. “Each country has its own and they can sometimes differ immensely from each other,” AfBAA’s spokesperson says.

    “We think the communications amongst the Civil Aviation Authorities, ICAO, and other aviation associations should be more streamlined, where information can be shared easier.”

    Recent AfBAA research shows that if 12 key markets in Africa had open-air services with each other, an additional $1.3 billion would be added to the GDP of those countries, creating an additional 155,000 jobs, saving travel times, and making air travel more convenient and affordable for travelers.

    Another considerable barrier, Penfold adds, is government bureaucracy and the high cost of doing business in the region. He points to the proliferation of non-qualified individuals being placed in key management positions of governing bodies.

    “In East Africa, when there is a change of guard in government, new and invariably, unqualified or inexperienced personnel are slotted into key positions,” he notes. “There are several General Aviation airports in East Africa that are ‘managed’ by this system but ‘run’ by the private sector. This applies to all sectors.”

    The experts agree that governments could further encourage the use of private aircraft to boost local economies which heavily rely on the tourism and leisure sectors. For example, actively encouraging the aviation industry and incentivizing them to open new scheduled routes, new charter links, and new airstrips in areas which are currently not accessible to the mainstream tourist.

    “By doing this they offer tourists new and often undiscovered locations to visit, in turn driving money to local economies which are currently not enjoying the benefits of tourism,” Rune says.

    Penfold agrees: “The cost of doing business in East Africa is already high. Investment in infrastructure, incentives for private aviation operators, streamlining of regulations, safety and security and efficiency of customs and immigration points [would be conducive of growth].”

    Top Leisure Travel Destinations in Africa

    As established, safari parks play a huge role in the local tourism industry in Africa and translate as the primary reason for leisure travel there.

    In Kenya, Penfold says, the Masai Mara, Amboseli, and the Kenya coast benefit due to their accessibility and convenience to tourists, and then north of the equator, Laikipia, Samburu, and the northern frontier area benefit, again purely owing to their accessibility.

    “In Tanzania, other than the main tourist routes – i.e. Serengeti/Ngorongoro Crater – parks such as Katavi, Mahale, Ruaha, and Selous are really only reachable by private air charter,” he adds.

    According to AfBAA, Mauritius was the number one overseas destination in 2023 while Musanze in Rwanda, Freetown Peninsula in Sierra Leone (known as Africa's new coastal hub), Loango National Park in Gabon, and the famous Kruger National Park in South Africa are all top options for leisure travel.

    In a nutshell, Business Aviation’s role in Africa’s tourism sector is allowing leisure travelers to engage in unique activities not normally accessible through mainstream transportation, and in so doing to “interact with people that would not otherwise have the same opportunities to earn dollars in their remote communities,” Penfold concludes.

    More information from:
    Scenic Air:

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