BY PROF. DR. WOLFGANG H. THOME, ETN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT
DEC 29, 2013
With Ethiopian Airlines pulling out the Seychelles is no longer served by any Star Alliance Airline.
After starting up with much fanfare last year have news now emerged that Ethiopian Airlines will halt their flights to Mahe from March 2014 onwards after apparently failing to make a significant impact vis a vis traffic carried to the archipelago compared to their own forecasts and expectations.
The airline was flying 4 times a week between Addis Ababa and Mahe’s International Airport and the flights are no longer visible after March 2014 in any of the common reservation systems, a clear indicator that the flights have been ‘offed’.
The Seychelles, one of the world’s most sought after destinations’, literally sells itself according to other airlines and yet has Ethiopian failed to capitalize on the appeal of the destination and its global standing. Inside information from Addis Ababa speaks of internal discussions, some apparently contentious, over the airline’s decision to pull out of the Seychelles, not only on the line of the potential fallout for the airline but also for the political dimension this decision could have. The Seychelles are a member of long and good standing in the African Union, which is headquartered in Addis Ababa and the archipelago’s tourism minister Alain St. Ange is currently one of Africa’s representatives on the UNWTO Executive Committee.
ET departs from the Seychelles amid regrets by the archipelago’s tourism sector, many of whom from a quick survey taken were not yet aware of the decision. Members of the Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association, the main private sector platform where the main actors of the archipelago’s tourism industry come together, prefer to have a wider range of options to fly to Mahe from around the world, over and above home boys Air Seychelles which flies in partnership with Etihad, global giant Emirates which flies 12 times a week from Dubai to Mahe and Kenya Airways which connects presently 4 times a week out of Nairobi.
ET joins Qatar Airways, which withdrew from the Seychelles route a few months ago, the departure of the latter considered a greater loss for the archipelago’s tourism industry due to the global appeal QR has established as a five star airline. ‘If true, and I have no reason to doubt you after being spot on with past information about airlines coming or going, it will be a bit of a blow for us.
Emirates will for two months in 2014 fly only one flight per day because the Dubai airport runways are being resurfaced and traffic will need to be reduced. They have not yet said if they will bring in a larger aircraft to cater for the 5 flights each week which for those two months will be cancelled. Ethiopian brought in traffic from not just their global network but also from Africa and we now rely on Air Seychelles to bring traffic from South Africa and of course Kenya Airways.
KQ (Kenya Airways) now flies 4 times a week and there is some hope they may eventually add more flights and one day go daily. I think the use of their smaller Embraer jets will be a factor to make this possible.
However, there have been suggestions that Ethiopian did not market the Seychelles as resolutely as they could or should have done. STB [The Seychelles Tourism Board] works with all the airlines coming here and often has intervened on their behalf over the cost of ground handling at our airport.
That was a major factor for the Italian airline Panorama when they pulled out last year. It think there is a need to remove obstacles of any kind so that we can attract more air traffic and the ministries concerned, tourism and transport, should regularly sit and talk with Air Seychelles of how to encourage flights and keep the cost of handling within comparative ranges of other destinations like Mauritius or Reunion.
The Seychelles Tourism Board (STB) goes into key markets with airlines to promote the islands and have dedicated significant resources over the years to bring in agents fam trips, media trips and even airline marketing staff to showcase our attractions. If an airline like Ethiopian would have come to us in the private sector we would have helped wherever and however we could but now that the decision seems official, there is perhaps not much left to be done but hope they change their mind in the future and return to Mahe again’ commented one source, however not ready to go on record.
Another regular source from Victoria, when told, lamented the loss of connections from the African mainland, where a significant rise in passenger numbers was recorded since Ethiopian started to fly to Mahe alongside Kenya Airways, saying: ‘Visitors from Africa, though some stay in very posh hotels, often opt for guest houses, self catering and apartments. These visitors support our indigenous Seychellois businesses and when Ethiopian leaves there is less choice for many to come here. I think Ethiopian has the most destinations in Africa but once they leave it will be left to Kenya Airways to cater for that traffic. Maybe they can add more flights to Mahe and provide the seats we now seem to lose from Africa’.
Understandably were no official comments available from any government offices or from STB in view of the extended holiday period and the current weekend.
Only recently did Air Austral announce the resumption of flights between Reunion and the Seychelles, from 23rd of June next year, with initially two frequencies, offering additional connectivity, and Air Seychelles has a few weeks ago also announced a significant increase in flights, including the resumption of direct flights to and from Paris, though via Abu Dhabi.