Durban and King Shaka International Airport continue to surpass projections, having experienced growth of 16 percent in passengers from October 2015 to September 2016, as well as an impressive 19 percent growth in cargo over the same period.
Over the past year major global airline brands such as Ethiopian Airlines, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines, plus local southern African operators Air Namibia and Proflight Zambia, have already inaugurated flights from Durban, South Africa. These services have delivered important regional, continental and notably key intercontinental connectivity, complementing the existing transit options with Comair (British Airways franchise) and South African Airways via Johannesburg and Emirates Airline via Dubai.
In addition, last week, Air Seychelles announced its intention for a new twice weekly service linking Seychelles International Airport, on the island of Mahé, directly with King Shaka International Airport in Durban, from the end of March 2017 to be the seventh new international route to be launched from the port city and main gateway into the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa since it hosted the World Routes air service development forum in September 2015.
“Hosting the World Routes event in 2015 presented the City of Durban and the Province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) with an opportunity to elevate their brand and increase awareness of the destination. Various role players in route development and airline marketing who may never have considered visiting the destination were converted into ambassadors of the airport and the region,” representatives of the Route Development Committee for King Shaka International Airport told Routesonline during a joint interview.
“The relationships that we have built through the World Routes conferences have played a key role in driving direct air connectivity for Durban. The one-on-one meetings with the airlines have given us the opportunity to promote Durban as a new destination to their networks,” they added.
The international network growth commenced while airlines and airports were still holding meetings at the Durban International Convention Centre (ICC) as Proflight Zambia debuted a three times weekly Lusaka – Durban service, using the inaugural flight on September 22, 2015 to fly senior officials to the forum.
But, it was the three months after the event during the final quarter of 2015 that Durban significantly grew its network connectivity. Turkish Airlines inaugurated a four times weekly link from Istanbul from November 5, 2015; Ethiopian Airlines a three times weekly Addis Ababa connection from December 16, 2015 and Qatar Airways a four times weekly flight to Doha from December 17, 2015.
The Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines services were formally confirmed during World Routes 2015, while the return of Ethiopian Airlines to the South African coastal city was agreed during the event’s four days of meetings and networking.
Durban had been working to attract Ethiopian Airlines to the city’s modern King Shaka International Airport for some time and World Routes played an important role in helping to deliver this new service with previous forum meetings and facilitating a direct meeting between Ethiopian’s chief executive officer, Tewolde Gebremariam and Durban, KwaZulu-Natal at the 2015 event.
“KZN has always understood the economic importance of having a global carrier like Ethiopian Airlines operate to Durban, the challenge we faced was needing an ideal platform to meet with the airline face-to-face to present our business proposal,” said KZN officials.
They confirmed that KZN had met with the East African airline at the previous three World Routes events and was building a good relationship with the carrier. However, with Durban hosting the event this year the airline was able to see what the city had on offer from both a business and leisure destination.
“Hosting the event definitely played a role in securing the new route,” they said. “The relationships that we have built through the World Routes conferences have played a key role in driving direct air connectivity for Durban. The face-to-face meetings with the airlines have given us the opportunity to promote Durban as a new destination to their networks.”
The local stakeholders certainly believe that hosting World Routes has helped to put Durban on the map, with pre-event promotion since it was announced as a host also helping to bring attention to the destination. “Hosting the 2015 instalment of World Routes certainly delivered beyond our expectations,” they confirmed.
“Airline route planners were able to experience the destination - meet the people, experience the culture, and engage with business opportunities, beyond the numbers - allowing them to gauge the full potential of the destination and therefore make a compelling case for developing new air services,” they added.
What makes Durban and KwaZulu-Natal special as a destination?
Durban is Africa’s biggest and busiest port which together with the Port of Richards Bay 200km north of the city makes this one of the busiest shipping regions on the continent. KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) is South Africa’s second largest economy and contributes to significantly to South Africa’s GDP. KZN has a diverse economy comprising of agriculture, oil refineries, a range manufacturing industries including automotive, chemicals, clothing, food-processing, paper and textiles. Several international brands base their operations here including Samsung, Toyota, Unilever, Aspen Pharmaceuticals, Mondi Paper, Bell Equipment and others.
The new route success has continued and only last month Air Namibia introduced a four times weekly Durban – Gaborone – Windhoek link at the start of the Southern Hemisphere’s summer season. The new twice weekly Air Seychelles flight, operated using Airbus A320 equipment will commence from March 30, 2017, offering 14,171 seats to and from Seychelles each year as well as quick connections over Seychelles to Düsseldorf and Mumbai.
The objective of the King Shaka International Airport Route Development Committee is to drive the increase of air connectivity to Durban in order to open up the opportunities for increased trade and leisure between Durban and other parts of the world. They not only seek to attract new airlines to service direct routes to Durban, but they also provide valuable support to the airlines that service routes to and from Durban.
This Committee brings a multi-entity marketing approach to Air Service Development that comprises the city, the province and the national Airports Company. The various players bring competencies in the aviation sector as well as the areas of tourism, trade and economic development to the fore in positioning the airport to potential airline partners.
“We will continue to engage in this manner with our current airline customers and with potential new customers through various platforms such as the Routes event, which provides a useful platform to engage with airlines,” say the partners.
“The critical step, that we ensure we deliver on, is working with the airlines that have chosen to fly to our destination in helping them lay a firm foundation for their air services to our destination by providing insight into the local market and marketing support. It's this systematic approach that has ensured that we stay top of mind with airlines that are interested in growth markets. The success of the air services that we already have is testament to the growth that airlines can derive from Durban a destination,” they added.
Why Durban works as a destination
Durban and the province are also a popular destination for tourists from all around the globe. KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) is a traveller's dream and with the seemingly perpetual summer of our subtropical climate, it is not surprising that KZN is famous for outdoor activities, beaches, natural environment, sporting events and a variety of adventure activities. A rich diversity of wildlife put the Big Five Safari experience at the top of the list for international visitors. The vast unspoiled habitats, diverse cultures, peaceful beaches, jet set lifestyle, vibrant nightlife and growing economy make KwaZulu-Natal and the city of Durban a truly compelling case for new air services.
The next step is to further develop initial engagements from World Routes last year and this year and other industry events with follow-up meetings and proposals, with the aim of building enduring relationships that are mutually beneficial to the destination, airlines and other stakeholders.
“The main focus in the medium term is to drive frequency and capacity growth with our existing airline customers. Our current airline customers provided Durban with seamless air connectivity to over 900 global destinations, this air connectivity is crucial for economic and tourism growth,” says the Route Development Committee team.
In the longer-term Durban will look to enhance direct air connectivity in the Southern Africa region. The countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) play an important role in the economic development and growth of Durban.
“A number of these SADC countries are essential trade partners for the province and the city, and direct air connectivity will further enhance trade. Connectivity into Africa is also key in terms of trade development and the development of South Africa’s economic footprint. The UK, Europe, India and China are key economic and tourism role players in South Africa. These regions are prominent in our ambitions for direct connectivity,” say the partners.
What is sure is that together Trade and Investment KwaZulu-Natal, Dube TradePort and King Shaka International Airport place hosting World Routes in 2015 as a key tool in the development of new air links into Durban and the strong economic benefits they have brought to the city and province.
“World Routes and Routes Africa have provided us with a platform where Durban is able to engage with airline network planners face-to-face. The Routes platform has also enabled Durban the opportunity to directly showcase Durban as a new destination for airlines,” they confirmed in the interview.
The network strategy has been supported by air service development consultants, Airport, Strategy & Marketing (ASM) which has worked with Dube TradePort to assist with securing new air service connectivity over the past three years.
“ASM were appointed by Dube Tradeport in June 2013 to assist with the air service development strategy and implementation. It is extremely rewarding to see our client achieve so much success following our support and particularly leading up to and post hosting World Routes in 2015,” said Aidan Mooney, vice president, ASM.
“Our close working relationship allowed us to gain an in-depth understanding of their goals and aspirations as a region, and enabled us to focus and target the growth of the air services to deliver their goals,” he added.