Derek Hanekom. Picture: GCIS
Derek Hanekom. Picture: GCIS

The free movement of people everywhere in Africa, the easing or dropping of visa requirements and the deregulation of air services will be key in driving the growth of the tourism sector on the continent, tourism minister Derek Hanekom said on Thursday.

Speaking at the Africa Travel Indaba in Durban, Hanekom said all countries on the continent had the potential for domestic tourism growth.

“Intra-continental tourism from Africa’s rapidly growing economies and growing middle class is an opportunity begging to be exploited. We need improved collaborative efforts between our countries to achieve this,” he said.

In his state of the nation address in February, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that SA was looking to double its international tourist arrivals from 10.5-million to 21-million by 2030. SA has the largest travel and tourism sector in Africa, contributing  about R426bn to the local economy in 2018.

According to research by the World Travel and Tourism Council, the sector is responsible for 1.5-million jobs, or 9.2% of total employment in SA.

“We need to action the AU Agenda 2063 — especially with respect to free movement of people everywhere on the continent, and the easing or dropping of visa requirements in the next few years to enable this," Hanekom said.

“We need to work on all countries signing the Single African Air Transport Market, signed by only 23 countries so far. It’s intended to drive down airfares by allowing more airlines to freely access and increase frequency of flights to more countries. We need to be united in our aspiration to build and brand Africa as a continent of successes and opportunity,” he said.

The SA government has previously bemoaned the slow implementation of a decade-old continent-wide agreement to open up Africa’s skies for airlines.

In 1999, African ministers responsible for civil aviation adopted the Yamoussoukro Decision, named after the Ivorian capital city in which it was agreed, committing signatory countries to deregulate air services and to promote competition within regional air markets.

The decision to "open skies" in Africa would translate into greater options for travellers and lower fares. Africa is home to 15% of the world’s population but it accounts for just 3% of the global air service market.

The World Bank has previously stated that many African countries restrict air service markets to protect the share held by state-owned airlines.

In 2018, transport minister Blade Nzimande said the delay in opening up African skies had caused SA and the rest of the continent to miss out on substantial economic benefits.

“Some air transport markets between Africa and countries outside of Africa have been liberalised to a significant extent. But most intra-African aviation markets remain closed and regulated through bilateral agreements which limit the growth and development of air services,” Nzimande said at the time.