KwaZulu-Natal Premier, Sihle Zikalala, says the tourism sector will benefit significantly from the recent return of both South African Airways (SAA) and Qatar Airways to Durban’s King Shaka International Airport.

Zikalala said the move will help to further boost KwaZulu-Natal’s economic recovery.

“Through our Economic Recovery, Reconstruction and Transformation Plan, we have stated our commitment to increasing trade, tourism and beneficial collaboration with the rest of the world.

“Efficient and regular aviation services are necessary if we are to increase visits to our province, grow tourism numbers, and create jobs up and down the value-chain,” Zikalala said on Thursday.

This follows SAA’s announcement that its first scheduled flight will take off from OR Tambo International to King Shaka International on 4 March 2022.

This will be the first time in almost two years since the airline exited the route.

SAA said it will fly the route seven days per week, at least three times a day on a return service between the two cities.

SAA’s return to King Shaka Airport follows close on the heels of the resumption by Qatar Airways of flights out of Durban. Qatar, the Gulf airline headquartered in Doha, resumed flying from KwaZulu-Natal on 14 January with an initial frequency of four flights a week.

Zikalala said the resumption of SAA and Qatar Air flights between Durban and Johannesburg, Durban and Doha [capital of Qatar] respectively, will benefit the tourism sector which remains one of the greatest creators of employment in the economy of KwaZulu-Natal.

The Premier also welcomed the return of Qatar Airways to Durban following its withdrawal ahead of the festive season due to COVID-19 related health and safety concerns.

Zikalala noted that direct links to mid-hemisphere hubs, such as Doha in the Gulf region, bring the world closer by providing easy access to the global capitals of the world.

“The uptick in tourism numbers, which is directly related to aviation links, can only mean that KZN is truly on the rise, and that better things will come in 2022. SAA is a major global brand in the aviation, travel and tourism industry, and it remains recognisable to tourists and visitors wanting to visit our country from all corners of the globe.”

By returning to KwaZulu-Natal, Zikalala said, SAA will increase air links to the province by adding the number of airlines choosing to connect to destinations in KwaZulu-Natal.

Advancing economic growth

Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC, Ravi Pillay, said that air transport is key to advancing economic growth of KwaZulu-Natal.

“We welcome the reintroduction of SAA flights between Durban and Johannesburg. This is crucial in growing our economy and domestic capacity on the essential Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal route.

“This announcement comes straight after positive tourism numbers during the festive season, which were anchored on high occupancy rate of around 80% during the Christmas week,” Pillay said.

Pillay said the provincial government had worked hard to address the negative impact on the KwaZulu-Natal economy caused by disruption in connectivity, resulting from the grounding of many airlines, including SAA.

“The past 20 months since SAA terminated the Durban route have been particularly difficult. However, as government, we never stopped engaging SAA – even as the airline was repackaging its business model.

“This is a fresh start, and a timely boost to our economic recovery efforts. It strengthens our argument that the Durban route is a significant cog in the revival of the aviation industry in South Africa.”

Pillay also noted that Qatar Airways provides KwaZulu-Natal with connectivity to over 150 markets around the world.

With the province’s vaccination programme well underway, the reintroduction of Qatar Airways allows it to revive connectivity to strategic global markets, while “rebuilding our relationships with both business and leisure travellers, as well as service the demands of our airfreight market directly from Durban,” Pillay said.

Meanwhile, eThekwini Municipality Mayor, Mxolisi Kaunda, said the municipality will provide support to all international and regional airlines flying into the city, [and] ensures that these flights deliver value to the people and the economy of Durban.

“International air connectivity continues to be an important lifeblood for Durban, opening our city to significant tourism markets, while cementing our position as a trade gateway into the rest of the sub-Saharan African region.

“We welcome back both Qatar and South African Airways, which, through their vast network, will be instrumental in providing Durban with international connectivity,” Kaunda said.

Source: South African Government News Agency