A tale of two Africas as air travel to the continent’s east grows but declines in the north

Flying in to east Africa
Flying in to east Africa
Image: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya
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Despite the threats of terrorism, electoral tension, and political violence, air travel to East Africa has increased over the last year, a breakdown of flight reservations suggest.

An analysis by travel data company Forward Keys shows a growth of 11.2% compared with the same period last year. Travels to Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Kenya all increased, with the latter leading the pack by 14.9% in growth. This growth pattern is expected to power on till the end of 2016, with international bookings 17.3% ahead of where they were last year.

In contrast, North African nations like Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia have been hit hard. Fears over terrorist activities and internal unrest have taken the toll on the tourism trade, reducing the number of international bookings.

Terrorist attacks in Tunisia, Egypt, and Turkey have dampened the number of European visitors, who are looking to countries like Spain as alternative places for holidaying.

“We are seeing a tale of two Africas,” Olivier Jager, the chief executive officer of Forward Keys, said.

The research also shows growth in airport capacity, which is defined in the number of seats, across East Africa. Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar airports have shown tremendous growth in the last quarter, while Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta airport led the region in terms of capacity. Burundi’s intra-regional capacity also fell to -11% in 2015 and early 2016, owing conceivably to political violence stemming for an attempted coup.

Rwanda has shown a tremendous growth in terms of its capacity to cater to both regional and international flights. This trend is set to grow as the country builds a $418 million airport which upon completion in 2018 will handle 1.7 million passengers a year, doubling its current capacity of just over 500,000. A second phase expansion plan is expected to increase the capacity to 4.5 million passengers every year.

International travel patterns to the continent as a whole grew at 5.6%. With a scheduled growth of 15% for the next four quarters, Addis Ababa’s airport will enjoy a similar volume of international seats, or even surpass Johannesburg in international capacity.