In the first in a series of articles on source market recovery, Tourism Update looks at how the Germanic markets – Germany, Switzerland and Austria – are presently positioned with respect to demand for travel to South Africa.

Since the easing of travel restrictions from Austria, Germany and Switzerland, the Lufthansa Group has seen an immediate positive shift in bookings to and from its various hubs.

This is the very welcome message from Lufthansa General Manager Southern Africa and East Africa, Dr André Schulz, who told Tourism Update that Germany remained a key source market for South Africa and that South Africa was still a popular destination amongst tourists from Germany, with a special interest in travel to Cape Town during the European winter season.

The Lufthansa Group would therefore once again be able to offer a significant increase in flights to Cape Town throughout the European winter season, he said.

“Travellers will have the choice of five weekly flights from Frankfurt and from Munich as well as four weekly flights from Zurich to Cape Town, bringing the total number of flights to the Mother City to 14 weekly services. In addition, the Lufthansa service from Frankfurt to Johannesburg as well as the SWISS service from Zurich to Johannesburg will operate daily as from the end of October.”

Sense of Africa, South Africa Team Manager for the Germanic market, Sabine Pickworth, agreed that the Germanic market was showing the first signs of recovery. While she didn’t think there would be significant recovery this year, she did expect to see travel from Germany increase from about October onwards, mainly FIT travellers.

“There is booking and planning for 2022, with a lot of postponed travel now starting to confirm. We’ve had a few short-notice bookings so the travel trends are changing and there is demand to visit South Africa and the region.”

The regular announcements by more airlines restarting routes to SA ensured sufficient travel options were available to the Germanic markets, she said.

Angela Matthews, Owner and Director of Alpha Destinations, said she was slowly seeing an increase in enquiries from the German market, particularly from younger people, but people were still fearful or hesitant and flexible cancellation policies were essential to confirm bookings.

“South Africa and Namibia are the most requested destinations. Flight connections are not an issue, as there are enough options on offer and airfares are still very good.”

Reclassification helps recovery

Since the recent announcement by the German government to re-categorise South Africa and Namibia as high-risk countries, the Lufthansa Group was able to supply additional capacity to the markets, which was driven by travel demand, said Schulz. 

“We can immediately see an increase, not only in leisure travel, but we are also encouraged to see the first signs of recovery in the corporate travel sector, which is why we will be offering up to 90% of our 2019 capacity back in the market by the end of October 2021.”

He said the Lufthansa Group had maintained an important ‘lifeline’ connection between South Africa and Europe during the onset of the pandemic, offering 26 repatriation flights departing SA in 2020. “The fact that we continued serving SA even during the most difficult times, emphasises the importance of this market within the Lufthansa Group. We remain committed to serving our customers and partners in this region.”

During the pandemic, Pickworth said Swiss travellers had been at the forefront in terms of travelling to South Africa, the main reason being that initially Switzerland did not have such strict quarantine requirements for travellers returning home and had not had such severe and long lockdown periods as Germany, for example. “Switzerland and the US will be the first source markets to start travelling again. We have some steady bookings from Austria as well for 2022.” 

While it was a bit early to say which tours would be the most popular in the upcoming season, Pickworth believed individual, tailor-made travel was definitely on the cards, including fly-in safaris and full self-drive itineraries.

“Travellers want ease of booking and flexibility to postpone or adjust plans if the situations change quickly due to travel bans or surges in infections. The demand for future group travel is there, once PCR testing, vaccine passports and more clarity on positive case isolation emerge from the industry. I expect the demand for group travel to pick up in the second half of 2022 and to continue into 2023.”

In terms of destinations, she said the Germanic market was looking to visit the iconic landmarks of Southern Africa – Cape Town, the Garden Route, KwaZulu Natal, Kruger and Mpumalanga – often adding on Victoria Falls, Chobe, the Okavango and Namibia.

“Many choose these countries as a repeat destination when they travel to the region again. The Germanic client is comfortable booking on a scheduled tour, as well as being adventurous enough to embark on a self-drive trip. The Swiss tend to take a more leisurely pace, spending more nights in each location.”

Pickworth recently hosted two large virtual trips around South Africa in the German market, where she and colleagues presented the highlights of a safari, introduced virtual wine tasting and showcased their SA cooking skills. “The ‘couch travel’ events were a fantastic initiative and geared towards creating an event to spark interest and entice people to travel again.”

Continued obstacles to recovery

Schulz said while there had been a significant increase in demand for travel and advance bookings to/from SA, specifically over the last three-week period, the development of the Lufthansa Group remained dependent on the pandemic situation and travel restrictions in particular that influenced customer demand.

Pickworth said the challenge now was to get accurate and updated information into the markets so travellers could book with confidence. “We need to spread the word on our increased vaccination roll-out, our amended alert levels and current recovery rates.”

Other steps to boost recovery included removing PCR testing requirements and moving to vaccination passports, she said.

The Lufthansa Group is offering a digital document check via the Health Entry Support Center for travellers coming from Germany, according to Schulz. Traveller documents are uploaded digitally and checked before departure, which saves time at the airport. “We also continue to promote concepts for health data apps and prepare our digital travel chain for the integration of digital certificates. In addition, we are introducing various innovative products and services to further enhance the customer experience.” 

He added: “Guests travelling in economy class on our Johannesburg or Cape Town to Frankfurt flights will have the option of booking a Sleeper’s Row at check-in or at the gate before their flight. With this attractive offer, travellers will receive an entire row of seats for themselves (three to four adjacent seats) for the entire duration of the flight and the surcharge for this is between €159 and €229 per route.”

He said people were yearning to travel once again and therefore the group’s commitment remained in actively supporting the restart of the South African tourism industry with its significant Lufthansa Group-wide capacity increase to the market from the end of October 2021.