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ROUTES: Durban eyes new direct air links

New international air links to Durban will be formally confirmed during the World Routes event which begins tomorrow as the region embarks on a major tourism push as part of its economic development strategy.

Attracting new international services to Durban is a key part of the development strategy for city and the KwaZulu Natal province, which is also behind its decision to host World Routes.

Emirates' daily Boeing 777-operated service to Dubai is the only international destination served from Durban's King Shaka International airport. In February this year Qatar Airways announced plans to add a Durban connection to its existing Doha-Johannesburg flights from December, while Turkish Airlines has disclosed its intention to serve the city.

"Durban is the gateway to Africa," said James Nxumalo, mayor of the eThikwini municipality, which includes Durban, during a press conference held on the eve of World Routes."We are confident we can increase visitors and investors if we have direct air services to Durban.

"One of the big topics that will be discussed [here at Routes] will be the possibility of direct flights to our key source markets, like New Zealand, Australia, UK, USA and German, and others listed in our economic and tourism strategy," he says.

KwaZulu Natal MEC for economic development and tourism, Michael Mabuyakhulu, echoed the importance holding the event played in part of the region's bid to secure more direct service as part of the region's wider strategy to increase tourism and economic activity.

"Out of 4.5 million visitors flying into Durban, a large part of international visitors come via indirect flights and we are working hard to get airlines to consider flying direct to Durban," he says, adding one of the aims was "to develop viable and sustainable routes from Durban to the international destinations where our source markets are."

Alongside the key tourism markets, he also cites big opportunities from growing carriers in the Middle East, from Asia and notably big potential markets of India and China.

"[Hosting Routes] exposes our airport and the region and over the next three to four days, serves as a platform for us to announce certain airlines that have made commitments to serve Durban," Mabuyakhula adds. While he would not be drawn further on the specifics, he says "they will be announced so we can see the first fruits from the event even before the delegates have left these shores".

The strategy also includes building connectivity within Africa. Proflight Zambia becomes the latest operator into Durban, when it begins thrice-weekly flights from Lusaka on 22 September. "In Africa, we need to connect the market more than is currently the case," says Mabuyakhula.

Durban also expects a further boost for its profile and development ambitions from the Commonwealth Games, after it was selected as the start of this month as host of the 2022 event. It marks the first international multi-sport Games to take place on African soil. "This is an opportunity to showcase to the world what this city has to offer," says Nxumalo.

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