Call for cool heads as crippling SAA could sound death knell for SA tourism

Cape Town – If plans by unions to cripple aviation in South Africa go ahead it could be the death knell for the tourism industry in the country and Cape Town in particular.

“Tourism in South Africa is a perishable commodity and it has been reeling from the decline in tourist volumes over the last few years," said chief executive of Cape Town Tourism Enver Duminy.

“All tourists expect us to keep our brand promise, keep them safe, make sure they have a memorable experience, ensure they are not ripped off by being over-charged and ensure that they get here and back home safely and on time. Not being able to meet these expectations will result in less visitors, less money spent, fewer jobs and more unemployment not just at SAA, but across the entire sector.”

Duminy’s remarks came as Chris Zweigenthal, chief executive of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA), urged unions and management in the air transport sector to "apply cool heads and to explore all options available to avert a secondary strike, which could perpetrate a national crisis”.

Zweigenthal said: “The air transport and tourism industries represent around R140 billion in gross value added to South Africa’s economy, and accounts for 3.2% of the country’s GDP.

"It also supports about 472000 jobs and their extended families, whose livelihoods, directly and indirectly, would be impacted across the entire economy.”

On Twitter, National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola wrote: “Executives at SAA are earning double what previous executives were earning. There is a gravy train at SAA and they have the audacity to claim poverty in order to retrench.”

Speaking in Cape Town during the launch of the first non-stop air service between Cape Town and New York by United Airlines, which is SAA’s partner in the Star Alliance global aviation grouping, David Maynier, MEC for Finance and Economic Opportunities, said: “As far as our role goes, this is a matter, obviously, between the airline and the unions and as far as we are concerned, we just want to ensure that there are smooth operations at Cape Town International Airport.”

As the crippling strike continued, the Federation of Unions of SA (Fedusa) called on the government, especially Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, to take the unpopular but vital step of bringing in a strategic partner to help recapitalise the national carrier and save it from winding down, and retrenching thousands.

Earlier, after SAA announced it was planning to restore some of its flights, Numsa and the SA Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) had warned South Africans not to fly SAA because of safety concerns.

Hlubi-Majola said: “The ongoing strike means that learner pilots without the necessary experience are used to fly aircraft.”

This warning was immediately challenged by the management of the national carrier, which promised to sue Numsa and Sacca for the allegations.

The airline said it had taken a decision to reinstate international services on its route network after an assessment of its personnel numbers who are available and willing to operate the flights.

“We are pleased that SAA is now able to increase services and to offer our customers more flights on the African continent, and that all our international flights are back on schedule.

"It is also important to assure SAA’s customers that our operations are safe and that the airline will never compromise on this core responsibility,” said Philip Saunders, SAA’s chief commercial officer.

@MwangiGithahu

mwangi.githahu@inl.co.za

Cape Argus

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