S African Airways turns to MICE traffic for boost

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 May, 2011, 12:00am


South African Airways will target Asia's leisure and meetings and conventions market to offset a downturn in passenger volumes caused by the winding down of mainland-backed construction projects in Africa.

The move coincides with the planned launch later this year of direct flights between Beijing and Johannesburg that will augment the carrier's existing daily service between Hong Kong and Johannesburg.

Jeff Naylor, the carrier's regional general manager for North Asia, said the number of mainland workers travelling to Africa had 'dropped back a bit' from the peak at the end of 2009. But there was still 'a significant amount' which justified the launch of the three-times-a-week Beijing- Johannesburg service.

No start date for the launch of the Beijing flights had been finalised, but South African Airways will use the Airbus A340-600, which can carry up to 317 passengers and is the same aircraft type used to serve Hong Kong. 'A lot of the southern Africa traffic is from southern China rather than Hong Kong,' Naylor said.

China's huge investments in Africa, particularly in Angola, since the end of 2008 led to an influx of mainland workers and staff to build roads, industrial plants and associated infrastructure. About 90-95 per cent of passengers on the Hong Kong- Johannesburg route were foreign workers, with about 25 per cent of the passengers using the carrier's regional and international network to fly beyond South Africa, Naylor said.

He said that while Chinese investments and development projects now covered most of Africa, there was a recognition the high volume of mainland worker traffic would not last forever.

As a result the airline was trying to develop the leisure and 'MICE' markets - or meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions markets, Naylor said.

New itineraries offering travel packages to places such as Namibia and the Victoria Falls as well as increases in the number of countries served were now being introduced, and the airline would start flying to Madagascar from South Africa at the end of this year.

Overall, the carrier, which has 53 aircraft, flew 6.4 million passengers last year, with better-than-expected passenger numbers from Japan as a result of the World Cup which South Africa hosted last year.