“The worldwide disruption of travel due to grounded flights in European centres threatened by the volcanic ash fallout has definitely had a ripple effect on Cape Town’s tourism sector”, so says Cape Town Tourism CEO, Mariette du Toit-Helmbold.
“There is a lot of uncertainty and frustration but there is also an opportunity to show extraordinary hospitality by extending a helping hand to those visitors that are stranded. Many people have not budgeted for an extended stay and we are asking hotels and tourism establishments to post their most generous rates for those stuck in limbo,” urges Du Toit -Helmbold.
In a phone poll of City hotels conducted by Cape Town Tourism on 19 April 2010, most accommodation establishments said that they were offering discounts to stranded visitors and many were fully refunding those bookings that could not be honoured as a result of the disruption. Accommodation providers were also assisting with planning and by enabling communications with employers and loved ones, as well as investigating insurance coverage and providing updates from airlines. Tour operators are also going beyond the call of duty by assisting stuck visitors with free transfers and reduced rates at hotels.
Some hotels had even experienced an upsurge in occupancy due to extended stays and also from visitors who have come down from other parts of South Africa to wait out the period until it is safe to fly again.
ACSA Communications Manager, Deidre Hendricks, pointed out that they have been informed by the airlines that passengers affected by the cancellations should rebook themselves as this will not happen automatically. “If you are scheduled to travel to the European region in the next few days, please be sure to contact the airline with which you are travelling in order to obtain up to date information.”
In terms of economic impact; the leisure travel sector is being significantly affected by the halt in flights but the business travel sector is perhaps a more critical worry with entire events having to be postponed or cancelled due to inaccessibility. It is too early to assess the financial implications of the disruption but Cape Town Tourism has embarked on a direct survey to establish the immediate effects being felt by its membership.
The important thing is that people wait until it is safe to resume flying,” says Du Toit-Helmbold. According to Eurocontrol, the European Organisation for Safety of Air Navigation, around 63,000 flights have been cancelled in the European airspace between 15 and 18 April. “Volcanic ash is a real threat to aviation safety and it should be noted that it is thanks to a quick response to the situation by authorities such as Eurocontrol, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) that safety measures were effected as efficiently as they were.” Experts are still uncertain as to when safe flights will be resumed.