Plastic-free Zanzibar is drawing SA travellers with its beaches that are warm as Durban's and cleaner than Cape Town's. Picture: LONDIWE BUTHELEZI
Plastic-free Zanzibar is drawing SA travellers with its beaches that are warm as Durban's and cleaner than Cape Town's. Picture: LONDIWE BUTHELEZI

Mango, the subsidiary of the loss-making SAA, has had great success with its Zanzibar route and has decided to launch another one, this time from the Lanseria Airport.

Mango’s head of marketing, Benediction Zubane, said demand has increased exponentially on the route and the airline flies its aircraft almost at full capacity all the time. Zanzibar has proven to be a popular destination among SA travellers.

Zubane said air passengers to Zanzibar from SA increased from just 10,000 when Mango launched its first flight to the island in 2013 to over 40,000 in 2018. With the launch of the additional Lanseria-Zanzibar flight, Mango will now be able to connect passengers from Durban and Cape Town. 

“This is a very profitable route. You can see with the volumes that we are handling. Customers want something that is direct. There are other role players, yes, but we have the biggest share in that 40,000,” said Zubane referring to the Zanzibar route.

Mango’s success with the Zanzibar route comes at a time when its parent company SAA is struggling to stay afloat with loss-making routes plunging it to a R5.5 loss in 2017. SAA has been posting losses since 2012, while Mango posted an undisclosed net profit in the 2016/2017 financial year. It contributed 6.98% to SAA’s total revenues.

Mango is not the only airline moving passengers from SA to Zanzibar. Air Tanzania, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines and SAA also fly to Zanzibar via other cities. But Mango is the only one that has a direct flight, which has worked in its favour. Zanzibar was the airline’s first international route and after witnessing its success, it is now working on launching its second international route.

Zubane said Mango had identified a number of new routes and had seen an uptick in interest from SA travellers who want to visit other parts of the continent for leisure. Zanzibar in particular was popular with families and honeymooners, said Zubane.

In 2016, Zanzibar set an ambitious plan to grow tourists to 500,000 a year by 2020. Just four years earlier in 2012, Zanzibar had only welcomed 169,223 visitors to its shores.

The island reached its half-a-million target at the end of 2018 when it recorded close to 530,000 inbound tourists, said Zanzibar minister of information, tourism and heritage Mahmoud Thabit Kombo. It is now aiming for 600,000 tourists at the end of 2019, making it one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in East Africa.

Picture: LONDIWE BUTHELEZI
Picture: LONDIWE BUTHELEZI

Tourism is an important part of Zanzibar’s economy, accounting for about 27% of GDP and more than 80% of its foreign-exchange earnings. But Zanzibar’s tourism boom, and by implication Mango and SA tour operators’ ability to grow profits from the island, is being threatened by the rising popularity of other islands and coastal regions around the continent.

Mauritius has already recorded 460,870 tourist arrivals in the first four months of 2019. Just over 7% of those were from SA. In 2018, only 12,300 SA travellers visited Seychelles, but SA is now the ninth biggest source of tourists to that island.

Kombo is, however, confident that Zanzibar can fend off the competition. He said the island is hard at work upgrading its road infrastructure, which should look much better in six months’ time. It is also in the process of upgrading its airport.

Zanzibar has its own president but it is a semiautonomous part of Tanzania, a country going through political change. Until recently, Tanzania has been one of the countries renowned for political stability in Africa, which helped it grow its economy by an average of 6% to 7% a year over the last decade, World Bank data shows.

However, things are starting to change as President John Magufuli is reportedly curtailing individual freedoms and persecuting members of opposition parties. Tanzania is also known for its hardline stance on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people as same-sex marriage is illegal in that country.

Despite these developments and competition from other islands, Zubane thinks there is still an opportunity for growth on the Zanzibar route.

“If you look at what’s happening in Zanzibar, the government is upgrading road infrastructure and we presume that once that is sorted, growth will continue. The anticipation is that it might grow by another 10,000 in two years’ time and that’s why we have launched additional flights out of Lanseria. There is demand,” he said.

The writer was hosted by Africastay and Mango Airlines in Zanzibar.

buthelezil@businesslive.co.za