New United Airlines direct flight to Cape Town a 'game changer' for local economy - CEO

In its current four-month seasonal format, United Airlines' new direct flight between Cape Town and New York/Newark has the potential to bring additional tourism spend of R153m for the Mother City by 2021.

This is according to Alderman James Vos, Mayoral Committee Member for Economic Opportunities and Asset Management within the City of Cape Town, who was one of several dignitaries welcoming the inaugural flight at Cape Town International Airport on Monday evening.

The Newark Liberty International Airport is located about 30km from Manhattan and a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner is used for the Cape Town flight.

The new route was secured by public-private partnership Cape Town Air Access.

This is United Airlines' first ever South African route and, according to Deon Cloete, general manager of Cape Town International Airport, a first of its kind direct link between New York/Newark and the Mother City.

At the event, Cape Town's Executive Mayor Dan Plato said the aviation economy is a key driver of growth through tourism and trade. That is one of the reasons why the City supports the Cape Town Air Access initiative.

According to Patrick Quayle, United Airlines' vice president for international network, Wesgro (the official investment and trade promotion agency for Cape Town and the Western Cape) and the local South African authorities have been "fantastic partners" in the process of securing the new direct route.

'Game changer'

Wesgro CEO Tim Harris told Fin24 he sees the new route as a "game changer".

"This is the biggest new route both in terms of symbolism and impact that we have secured. There was a lot of pent-up demand for it and we look forward to leveraging it," said Harris.

"Five years ago, when we started the Cape Town Air Access project, we identified the US route as a priority and have worked since then to land it. The US is in the top three most important markets for the Cape across investment, exports and tourism."

Since its launch in 2015, Cape Town Air Access has contributed to the success of securing 16 new routes and 22 route expansions. Wesgro estimates that the additional routes have helped to contribute an additional R6bn in tourism spend to the Cape's economy.

Enver Duminy, CEO of Cape Town Tourism, told Fin24 of the successful marketing campaign it ran with its partner NYC & Company to increases the visibility of Cape Town as a global destination. The new United Airlines direct flight was promoted in June as part of the campaign.

Marcel Fuchs, vice president of international sales at United Airlines, told Fin24 that on the first return flight from Cape Town to New York/Newark – which left on Monday night – two thirds of the passengers had connecting flights. Among the 50 connecting destinations were some in Hawaii and Canada. United actually offers connecting flights to over 80 destinations from New York/Newark.

"We are using the right size airplane for this route and shaving off between four and six hours each way. It is all about convenience and SA is good value for US tourists," said Fuchs.

Large US market

Aviation advisor Chris Click told Fin24 that a route such as this needed to be well calculated from an airline perspective. He believes United Airlines has made the right decision.

For US Ambassador to South Africa Lana Marks, the new route brings great opportunity for the hospitality industry.

This is echoed by Richard Lyon, Cape spokesperson of the hospitality body FEDHASA.
 
"Cape Town is a very desirable market among the North American market, and American tourists are a key focus for the hospitality and tourism industry due to the size of the market," said Lyon.

"Any measures that make travel to Cape Town easier for these travellers, such as the non-stop flight by United Airlines, can only benefit the local hospitality industry through bringing more tourists to our shores. Of course, and increase in tourism in turn stimulates our economy and adds to job creation."

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