Key Priorities to Sustain Recovery of South Africa’s Air Travel and Tourism Sectors Outlined by IATA

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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called on the South African government to step up its support for the air transport industry amid the COVID-19 crisis to facilitate the recovery of industries supported by aviation such as travel and tourism and unlock the job opportunities and other economic benefits they provide.

Air transport contributed about 3.2% of GDP to South Africa’s economy before the pandemic.

Airline passenger traffic to, from and within South Africa fell by 84% last year compared with 2019 (international down 98% and domestic down 69%) due to local and international travel restrictions.   Although domestic flights resumed in June 2020 the restoration of international connectivity has been gradual.  As of this month, 27 per cent fewer routes are currently served while the number of times they are flown daily or weekly has contracted by 52 per cent

South Africa’s air transport and tourism sector’s contribution to GDP all but evaporated with the COVID-19 crisis which coincided with the closure of one airline and the deep restructuring of two others. In 2019 aviation supported 364,000 jobs in South Africa. Because of COVID-19, about 298,000 of those jobs have been put at risk. It’s a significant impact for over 80% of jobs to be lost if connectivity is not restored. As South Africa’s foreign trade and tourist markets begin coming back online, it is crucial that steps are taken to ensure no more jobs or opportunities are lost,” said Kamil Al Awadhi, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Africa and Middle East.

Key priorities to support and sustain the recovery of South Africa’s air transport and tourism sectors include:

  • Financial Support and Relief to the air transport industry: South Africa’s entire airline industry requires support and financial relief if it is to fulfil its role as an economic enabler and job creator.  Government has several levers at its disposal to assist all carriers and service providers, both public and privately-owned.  Besides cash or financial guarantees, they include reductions, waivers and discounts on user charges and taxes on air travel and aviation and wage subsidies.
  • Adopting an inter-operable digital platform for COVID-19 testing and vaccination certificates: As passenger numbers increase in the recovery, digitally managing travel health credentials will be essential to avoid queuing and crowding at airports. IATA Travel Pass and the African Union’s Trusted Travel Pass are both tools that can help governments efficiently and conveniently verify traveler health credentials.
  • Increasing intra-Africa connectivity: The African Union’s Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) is intended to unlock travel and economic benefits within the continent. An IATA-commissioned econometric study found that the full implementation of SAATM across the continent would create 14,500 new jobs for South Africa and add US$283.9 million to its GDP.


IATA also urged the South African government to ensure the effective functioning of the South African International Air Services Licensing Council to enable the granting of operating licenses for new routes and increased frequencies on existing routes to South African carriers.

The prolonged absence of a functioning South African International Air Services Licensing Council is exacerbating the crisis by preventing new routes and competition, further curtailing options for international travelers, inhibiting trade and delaying the creation of jobs,” he added.

Equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines

With low vaccination rates across Africa, the continent and its people are vulnerable and the economic recovery from COVID-19 is at risk. Moreover, with more countries lifting travel restrictions for those vaccinated, the freedom of movement will be limited until vaccines are universally available. With 13.9% of South Africa’s population fully vaccinated, the challenge is particularly acute.

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