South African Airways announced this week it is halting daily direct flights between Cape Town and London, to avoid losses amid shrinking demand.
The national carrier will close the Cape Town route, operational for 20 years, from 16 August when two daily flights with increased capacity from Johannesburg will become its sole leg to Heathrow. Passengers booked to fly out of Cape Town after this date will either be re-routed via Johannesburg free of charge, or offered a full refund.
"A thorough analysis of the route made it clear that we could use our aircraft more profitably elsewhere, while continuing to ensure excellent business and tourism links... via Johannesburg," said Theunis Potgieter, SAA commercial general manager.
"It is also clear that we would lose money on the direct route in the future, whereas it is possible for us to operate more optimally between Cape Town and London via our Johannesburg hub," he said in a statement.
But the local tourism industry is not convinced.
"Our research has indicated that the London-Cape Town route still holds strong economic value for the Western Cape and neighbouring Eastern Cape," said Nils Flaatten, CEO of development agency Wesgro. "International airlines identified this and are increasing their capacity during peak season. Many business and leisure travelers from the United States are using London as a connecting flight into Cape Town and we are at risk of losing these visitors, as the traveling time has been extended even further."
"This is disappointing news for Cape Town’s tourism industry and we fear it could affect tourism arrivals from the UK and the rest of Europe negatively," commented Cape Town Tourism CEO, Mariëtte Du Toit-Helmbold.
"SAA’s announcement to withdraw its Cape Town – London service is a shock and a huge blow to us," added Nils Heckscher, Managing Director of Winchester Mansions Hotel. "Many of our guests, whether from the UK or other European cities have enjoyed this service for its convenience and good timing. The inconvenience of having to go through OR Tambo International may well put off some potential visitors to Cape Town."
SAA is expanding its network of destinations, and said the move will see aircraft from the axed route serve destinations in India and West Africa. But the airline is under pressure, and last month said it was looking to the government for help to renew its fleet.
"Serving the Cape Town-London route via Johannesburg will have an immediate positive effect on SAA's bottom line," said the airline.
Reasons cited included a 24 percent drop in demand between Britain and South Africa for all carriers in the past three years, as well as dwindling passenger numbers from Cape Town to London, both as a destination and for onward connections.
Competitors also offered cost-effective routes from Cape Town, the airline said.
What do you think... is SAA crazy to drop a once-popular route? Is its focus too heavily on Africa? Post a comment below...