South Africa’s tourism sector continues to suffer under the weight of Covid-19 lockdowns. Could the new Cape Winelands Aiport — touted as the ‘Lanseria of Cape Town’ — help jumpstart wine tourism?
South African billionaire Rob Hersov and his business partner Nick Ferguson established a new ‘residential’ airport 38 km north-east of Cape Town. The Cape Winelands Airport operates from the old Fisantekraal airfield in the centre of the Durbanville wine region, a short hop away from the rest of the Cape Winelands.
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Wine tourism is a significant revenue generator for the South African economy, but the sector has lost more than R2.5 billion in revenue between March and July 2020 due to the economic fallout of Covid-19 (including ‘red list’ travel restrictions). The industry hopes the new airport could bring a steady stream of domestic and international travellers to its doorstep.
Cape Town International Airport recorded more than 2.6 million international visitors in 2019. But year-on-year growth for international visitors has declined by -89.2% during 2020, raising the question: Why establish a new airport when Africa’s biggest (and best) airport is not operating at capacity?
Fight or flight?
Mark Wilkinson, Cape Winelands Airport’s finance and operations manager, says with population increasing every year, Cape Town International Airport will be at capacity very soon, and the city will benefit from a second airport in the same way that Johannesburg and Pretoria does. “The general aviation industry (non-commercial jets and planes) needs an alternative base as they struggle to operate at Cape Town International that, rightly so, prioritises commercial traffic,” he says. “The country and economy need investment in infrastructure, and we can’t think of a more effective way of doing so.”
However, some questions remain if resources are to be diverted to the supporting infrastructure such as access roads, transportation and bulk services a commercial airport would need. Anita*, an anonymous source within the tourism sector, says Cape Town International is battling to sustain itself economically, and has its own plans to expand capacity with an additional runway. “The businesses in and around the area are struggling to survive due to the lack of trade and investment coming into Cape Town. What is another airport going to do?”
Anita admits that the prospect could bode well for wine tourism as it offers tourists quick and easy access not only to the Durbanville wine region, but also to other nearby wine routes including Swartland, Paarl and Stellenbosch. “However, it’s imperative that the airport take hands with tour operators and perhaps offer affordable flights to and from countries within Africa. Only then will the prospect really excite the wine tourism sector,” she says.
Noise pollution may be another concern for the surrounding areas, but André Brink, owner of nearby Groot Phesantekraal, is excited for the prospect of having a commercial airport at his doorstep. “Due to the location of the airfield, I don’t think the noise would have any impact on us at all,” he says. “In the long run, the airport will benefit us immensely, especially the demographic passing through the airport – typically your high-income groups.”
He also believes subsequent development could help connect various regions within the Western Cape. “The airport will be a catalyst to better utilise these access routes and realise their potential.”
Could wine tourism benefit?
Mark says the airport took access to the Western Cape’s wine routes into account and they play a role into turning it into a popular transport hub for the area. “We want visitors to feel like they’re on holiday the moment they arrive at the airport. There’ll be a major focus on tourism and we anticipate that the charters and tour operators at Cape Winelands Airport will look to partner with all operators in the wine tourism sector.”
The airport is well positioned for aviation businesses and tour operators to operate out of the area. “We have no doubt these operators will thrive at our airport. There’s been a lot of interest from these companies already.”
South Africa’s tourism sector is under immense pressure, and Mark believes the establishment of the Cape Winelands airport could help bolster visitor numbers while alleviating congestion at Cape Town International Airport. “It brings more traffic into the area, as tourists would rather arrive into Cape Town at our beautiful airport nestled in the Cape Winelands.”
The prospect of stimulating the economy and creating job opportunities is heartening. “Airports are an engine for growth as they attract commerce from all sectors,” Mark says. “Our airport will benefit the local economy by creating job opportunities directly, and indirectly, through all support services and commerce expected to arrive in the area.”
It will be a long road to becoming the ‘next Lanseria’, but the first few steps are already underway. “We’re currently servicing the general aviation market with plans to resurface the existing runways and build modern, future-proof facilities for aviation-related businesses and individuals,” Mark says.
Only time will tell whether Cape Winelands Airport will help the wine tourism sector soar and reach new heights. For now, the runway looks clear for take-off.
(* not her real name).