Spending among African tourists could increase significantly over the next year if they were able to move more freely within the continent, according to a new survey report.

The survey by US-based Sabre Corporation, a technology provider to the global travel industry, published on Monday, interviewed 5,000 people across Kenya, Nigeria and SA. They were asked whether they had travelled by plane in the past 24 months, to which 26% said they had — a 2% increase on Sabre’s similar 2016 study. 

However, those who did travel cited that various barriers were preventing them from travelling more often.  The majority said that air travel was too expensive, but many also cited difficulties in obtaining visas and booking flights, delays, queues at airports, and an overall stressful travel experience as some of the reasons they do not travel more.

SA’s former tourism minister, Derek Hanekom, recently said 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.

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.

The Sabre Corporation survey found that of those who had travelled in Africa within the past two years, there was a willingness to spend up to 27% more on air travel if they could travel visa-free throughout the continent. Most respondents said they would take 2-3 trips per year compared with the 1-2 they currently took. More than 90% were also willing to spend more on ancillary services such as in-flight Wi-Fi and entertainment, and special on-board food and beverages. According to the survey 43% said they would spend more than $100 on these ancillaries to improve their travel experience — 26% up on 2016 and still significantly more than global averages.

“It is encouraging to see that a greater number of people have been able to access air travel over the past three years,” Dino Gelmetti, Sabre Corporation vice-president of sales, Middle East and Africa, said.

 “However, our research shows that there is still a long way to go to make travel affordable and accessible.  The majority of our respondents’ barriers to travel are within an airline’s control, and investing in the latest technology can significantly improve the whole flight experience, from booking to the day of travel.”

Those polled said that if pain points were eliminated and they could travel more freely, the countries on top of their lists to visit were SA, Ghana, Ethiopia, Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, Kenya and Botswana.  And, in an environment in which airlines across Africa are grappling with slow growth, this study sheds light on significant opportunities for the travel industry to improve the travel experience and capitalise on new revenue opportunities.

“Overcoming the cost constraint is a major challenge, but all indications are that if airlines were able to reduce flight costs by optimising operations, routes and pricing, far more African people would take advantage of the opportunity to travel by air,” Gelmetti said. 


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