Arusha. The high cost of air travel in Africa has been described as a barrier to tourism.
Travelers within the continent not only pay higher ticket prices, but also higher taxes to board a commercial plane.
This came to light at the just concluded World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) global summit in Kigali, Rwanda.
Speakers at the high-profile event – heads of state, business executives and travel experts – said intra-African air travel remained prohibitive.
“It is often cheaper to travel to another continent than to another African country,” they said at the end of the meeting.
They cited a plane ticket from Berlin, Germany, to Istanbul costing just $150 for a direct flight taking less than three hours.
Traveling a similar distance between Kinshasa and Lagos in Nigeria would cost between $500 and $850, with the journey taking up to 20 hours.
In contrast, the cost of a flight from Entebbe in Uganda to the Kenyan port of Mombasa (916 km) will cost up to $200.
This is about eight times the cost of flying the same distance in Europe.
According to reports, a flight from Kampala (Entebbe) to Arusha costs a whopping $480.
However, one can fly from Washington to Dallas (both located in the vast territory of the United States) for only $180, with a distance longer than Entebbe-Arusha.
“This makes doing business in Africa incredibly difficult and expensive,” said Kamil al Awadhi, regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East at the International Air Traffic Association (Iata).
Adefolake Adeyeye, assistant professor of commercial law at Britain’s Durham University, agrees that Africa as a whole is missing out because of its poor air service.
However, she says poor road networks and a lack of railways in many African countries often make air transport a practical choice for cargo as well.
Although about 18 percent of the world’s population lives in Africa, it accounts for less than 2 percent of the world’s air.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, host of the summit, said the high cost of air transport to and within Africa remains an obstacle to the growth of the tourism sector.
He explained that this situation was due, among other things, to the failure to implement the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM).
SAATM was endorsed by the African Union (AU) with a view to opening up African skies and promoting the value of aviation across the continent.
It is also envisioned to boost traffic, boost economies and create jobs, but has only been signed by 34 of the AU’s 55 member states.
But once fully operational, the SAATM can also pave the way for even better cooperation between different countries, where the continent can develop modalities to market Africa as a unique tourism destination.
The Rwandan leader issued a rallying call to African states to liberalize their airspace “in order to unlock the potential that the continent possesses in the tourism sector.”
For Africa to fully exploit emerging sectors such as travel and tourism, travel industry experts stress the need to implement the SAATM.
For a continent sorely lacking in other essential infrastructure like roads and shipping, air transport is the only option left to facilitate intra-African movements.
However, the liberalization of airspace on the continent must be accompanied by the removal of visa restrictions, still in force in Africa.
The bottom line, however, remains that many sovereign African countries are hesitant to implement open skies policies.
Many countries, short on cash to run their respective airline facilities, impose all kinds of taxes on passengers.
Taxes on flight operations range from charges for common use of terminals and access roads to noise, landing, parking, passenger buses, firefighting and lighting, which represented an enormous burden.
The 2021 African Airlines Association report indicated that passengers in Africa pay around $50 in taxes, compared to $30.25 in Europe and $29.65 in the Middle East for the same flight hours.
Intra-African flights are 45% more expensive than worldwide flights. This consequently makes the demand for air travel in Africa, the second largest continent in the world, low.
The situation is also not rosy for East African Community (EAC) states, where passengers are forced to pay hefty taxes and fees on international departures.