• Sunday, May 19, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Why travel within Africa is expensive despite visa openness initiative

Why travel within Africa is expensive despite visa openness initiative

Despite the continent’s allure with its stunning landscapes from the majestic Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to the pristine beaches of La Digue in Seychelles, the costs of intra-Africa travel rate remains one of the highest globally when compared with other regions.

This stems from a myriad of factors, from economic struggles to colonial legacies, amid visa openness initiatives allowing 54 African passports visa-free access to other nations.

For instance, airfares from Nigeria to popular African destinations range from N1 million to N6 million, pricing many potential travellers out of the market.

Bernard Bankole, an aviation analyst, attributes these sky-high costs to weak African currencies, especially the naira, expensive aviation fuel and maintenance of air planes, as well as strained trade relations between African countries.

He emphasised the need for seamless intra-continental trade and cooperation to make travel more affordable.

The reluctance of African nations to prioritise intra-continental trade not only hampers economic growth but also limits the potential of African airlines, according to experts.

Olumide Ohunayo, a member of the Aviation Safety Round Table pointed to economic mismanagement and infrastructural deficiencies as key factors pedalling down the potential of intra-Africa travel.

“The management of the economy by different governments in Africa, coupled with constant strife within some regions, slows the development of infrastructure for air transport facilities,” he said.

Furthermore, Ohunayo said the persistent language barrier and allegiance to colonial powers further impede regional unity and connectivity.

“The language barrier has to do with allegiance to the French, English, Belgians, etc and this has not helped in building unity on the continent,” he added.

Ohunayo advocates for a more unified approach, encouraging the opening of borders and streamlining visa processes. Solutions lie in embracing initiatives like the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) to enhance connectivity and affordability.

The high cost of intra-Africa travel is also limiting the potential of African-owned airlines.

“While the continent is home to some of the most attractive tourist destinations globally, intra-Africa travel faces significant challenges that limit the potential of African airlines amid the growth projections for 2024,” Ohunayo said in an interview with BusinessDay.

As of June 2023, Africa’s airlines contributed merely 2.1 percent to global passenger traffic, a meagre figure revealed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

BusinessDay reported last year that this paltry share comes despite a commendable 34.7 percent increase in traffic in 2022.

The struggle is evident in the lowest load factor among all regions, amplifying the hurdles faced by African airlines in maintaining recovery momentum.

Analysing data from June 2023, Europe held the global lead in passenger share at 30.8 percent, closely followed by North America at 28.8 percent. In stark contrast, Africa was the only region experiencing a decrease in the monthly international load factor compared to the same period the previous year.

While global traffic reached 94.2 percent of pre-COVID levels in June 2023, the disparity in growth between domestic and international sectors is striking. Domestic traffic rose by 27.2 percent compared to the previous year, while international traffic climbed a remarkable 33.7 percent.

This discrepancy highlights the challenges unique to Africa’s international air travel sector.

A call for regional cooperation and investment

Offering solutions, Ohunayo stressed the importance of embracing initiatives like the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) to enhance connectivity and affordability.

“Once we can open borders and allow visa on arrival, and move SAATM forward, intra-Africa transport will become cheaper,” he said.

He also noted that addressing these challenges hindering affordable intra-Africa travel is imperative for unlocking the continent’s vast tourism potential and fostering sustainable economic development.

“By prioritising regional cooperation, investing in infrastructure, and overcoming colonial legacies, African nations can pave the way for a more integrated and prosperous future,” he said.

As Africa gears up for projected growth in the tourism sector for 2024, the focus must shift towards fostering closer economic ties, streamlining visa processes, and investing in infrastructure.