On first consideration, Tenerife might not seem the most logical host for Routes Africa 2016. It is the largest and most heavily populated of the Canary Isles and the local culture reflects that of its Spanish heritage, despite its proximity to West Africa.
However, once Stephanie Wear, the economic development consultant for tourist board Turismo de Tenerife, begins to explain the island’s connectivity strategy, it quickly becomes apparent why Routes Africa is considered the destination’s most important event.
She says: “We are completely dependent on route development. If planes don’t come to the island, tourists can’t come to the island, it is that clear. There’s no other way to get here. In order to grow our visitor numbers we needed to chase the number of flights that come and the number of carriers that come.
“We’ve been a big supporter of Routes for the past five years and attending it as a delegate since 2009. “We’ve positioned ourselves as the gateway of four continents because of our geographical location and the commercial relationship we have with North and South America, Europe and Africa.
“It is an opportunity to show off the destination to airlines, especially since a lot of people have this notion that it is a European sun and fun destination – but it is more than that.”
That’s not to say the “sun and fun” market is doing badly for Tenerife. Of the 9.1 million passengers who used the Tenerife South Airport in 2015, more than 92 percent were international travellers, the significant majority of which are tourists.
About four million travellers used Tenerife North Airport in the same year, although only 1% was international traffic, with the rest being from either mainland Spain or other Canary Islands.
Indeed, Wear adds since Tenerife has been sending delegations to every Routes event except Routes Asia since 2009, it has been able to introduce 100 new routes and 20 new carriers, leaving the island with strong connections to Europe.
Wear says: “Obviously we are well connected to Europe, there’s very few airports in Europe that don’t have a direct flight to Tenerife. About 90% of leisure traffic is from Europe and we have worked very hard to get premium carriers such as British Airways and Lufthansa to fly here.”
Instead, as Tenerife seeks to forge greater commercial links with Africa, targeting increased air connectivity both eastwards and westwards has become part of a wider strategy.
She adds: “Where we have really focused our efforts in the last two years is trying to better our connectivity to North America. I’m very keen to increase our connectivity with West Africa as well. Four years ago we didn’t have any flights to Africa but now we do and hopefully we can increase that. We’re looking at being a hub for Europe and Africa.”
For this reason the island’s route development programme is just also combines tax breaks. Airlines and tour operators based on the island pay 4% corporate tax under the Canary Islands Special Zone framework while export taxes are waived on goods being imported and exported into and from the island’s Free Trade Zone, if they are going straight back out and on to Africa.
A deep-water port already exists on the north side of the island where 12,819 tons of cargo were transported in 2015. With another deep-water port being built in the south next to the airport and the island’s key industrial area, set for completion in 2018, Tenerife South Airport can expect significant growth on the 2,836 tons of cargo that passed through it in 2015.
Wear says: “A lot of companies are using Tenerife as a forward base.” Nor is it outside of her remit to consider the business strategy of route development, despite her role being with the tourist board.
Wear explains Turismo de Tenerife also has a department for economic development, meaning her role is as much about using aviation to boost commercial activity as leisure activity. This means she is more than used to working with staff from airport operator Aena, which counts both facilities among the 61 airports and two heliports it owns globally.
The company operates eight in total in the Canary Islands, which in 2015 recorded more than 35.8 million passengers, a record amount that accounted for 17.2% of all traffic in Aena’s total network.
During the year domestic traffic at the Canary airports grew 5.5% while international figures were up by 2.1%. With that level of competition, Wear believes it is vital that tourist boards step in and assist airports in getting out into the market and attracting the right kind of airlines.
She says: “What we have to look at is the increase in the tourist boards taking part in route development. When an airline flies into the airport they need to be reassured the correct infrastructure is there.
“However, whether it is business travel or leisure travel, customers don’t choose to fly to the airport, they choose the destination and the tourist board can help that. The destination and the airport working together is going to make things a lot easier for everyone.”
She also believes that the constant identification and targeting of new markets can help the destination when it invariably loses other important markets, part of any destination’s natural ebb and flow.
Since economic sanctions have been placed on Russia in the wake of its 2014 invasion of Ukraine, Wear estimates that the drop of all but the richest visitors coming from the country has created a “significant dent” in Russian tourist numbers.
However, an increase in medical tourism and shop-till-you drop breaks from Africa has helped plug the gap and is again being used in discussions with airlines to help secure more flights.
This again takes the destination full circle as it once again focuses on Africa as part of its ongoing strategy for success.“We are a hub and it is a hub that needs to grow,” Wear concludes.