South African Airways is celebrating 85 years in business as one of the oldest airlines in the world, connecting Africa with six continents around the globe. During this celebratory moment, we decided to chat with the airline’s executive v.p. of North America, Todd Neuman, to give us the scoop on why the airline is such an important player in the marketplace.
Paloma Villaverde de Rico (PVR): Why should travel advisors recommend South African Airways over other airlines that can transport their clients to Africa?
Todd Neuman (TN): We are a long-time player in the market and Africa is our map, and from the U.S. we do offer the most daily service to South Africa. Then there’s a very extensive network of over 75 destinations on the African continent served by South African Airways (SAA) and our regional partners, so not only can we get travelers from the U.S. to South Africa, but then as a single carrier we have the ability to move them around within the continent.
Our main U.S. hubs are JFK, with daily nonstop to Johannesburg, and we fly daily out of Washington Dulles International Airport—that service is four days a week via Accra, Ghana and continuing onto Johannesburg, and three days a week it operates via Dakar, Senegal to Johannesburg. So out of the D.C. market, in addition to serving South Africa, we also serve West Africa.
PVR: Can you talk a little about how SAA works with travel advisors to keep them as committed partners?
TN: We work very closely with our travel partners in North America, both in the U.S. and Canada, and because Africa is a long-haul destination, many travelers still rely upon the expertise of a travel advisor or professional consultant, particularly those that specialize in selling travel to Africa. About 80 percent of the business that SA generates out of North America is driven through the travel trade, so it continues to be an important channel for us. We do dedicate a lot of resources to developing partnerships and relationships with the travel trade. We have a field sales team of eight sales directors located in North America that are working with our travel partners to develop their business to Africa. In addition to that, SAA is probably the most proactive carrier flying to Africa in terms of being involved in a number of travel industry events. Every year we host the Africa Showcase, a travel trade event that’s held in four or five cities where we bring a group of suppliers over from Africa, representing various hotels, game lodges, destinations, tourism boards, etc.
PVR: Do you see young travel advisors excited about Africa?
TN: Younger travel advisors are selling more trips to Africa—they recognize the great quality the destinations in Africa have to offer and they recognize how lucrative selling Africa can be.
That’s one of the things that’s changing the demographics to Africa, especially because the destination has become more affordable, and more accessible. South Africa is a very affordable destination, with the exchange rate being 14 South African Rand to US$1, and the airfares are very affordable, as are the accommodations, the meals, the wine…it’s all very affordable. I think the perception is that travel to Africa is very expensive and it can be, but there are also opportunities where a North American traveler can enjoy a 10- to 12-day trip to South Africa with four- and five-star accommodations, safari and airfare included, for under $5,000.
PVR: What can family passengers can expect on their flight to their destination in Africa?
TN: South Africa is a long ways away. From the U.S. east coast it’s about a 15- to 16-hour flight, so given the nature of this long-haul, our aircraft are designed for long-haul travel with a little bit extra legroom in economy class, and the full flatbed in business class. In terms of traveling with the children, we have the in-flight entertainment and each seat offers a variety of movies, TV shows, games, music; we also offer a children’s in-flight kit with games and coloring book, as well as special children’s meals, so we try and cater as much to the children to keep them entertained because the family market is a growing market.
PVR: What’s the best time, in terms of ages, for a family to travel to Africa?
TN: In my opinion, the ideal age is a minimum of 10, especially if they are going on safari. South Africa is very affordable, but the family is investing a lot in the vacation and they want the kid to remember the vacation. Most of the safari lodges do have a requirement that the child be at least 6 years old in order to participate in the game drives, but it also depends on their maturity. Many of the safari lodges also recognize that family is a growing segment of their client base and many have programs for children, so if they are not able to participate in the game drive there are other activities for the kids.
PVR: Why is now a perfect time for U.S. families to travel to destinations in Africa?
TN: One of the key things is not only the benefit of the wildlife, but it’s exposing children to new and different cultures, and South Africa, of course, has a very rich history, a very interesting heritage, and a strong culture, so I think it’s a very good time for families, as well as the fact that it is a very affordable destination. I think if you really were to look at comparing the cost of a family vacation in South Africa vs. a family vacation in an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean, you will find that cost to be very similar, but the experience is going to be significantly different.
For more information on South African Airways, visit flysaa.com; for more information on South African Airways Vacations, visit flysaavacations.com; and for more information on South African Tourism, visit southafrica.net.
For the South African Airways story that ran in the March issue, click here.