Last updated: 03:00 AM ET, Thu December 03 2015

Do New Hub Plans Foreshadow a Travel Boom in Africa?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | December 03, 2015

Do New Hub Plans Foreshadow a Travel Boom in Africa?

PHOTO: Air France's intentions to build two hubs in Africa highlights the growth that could be coming to the region. (Photo courtesy of Air France)

Air France has announced plans to turn two African cities into hubs in the near future. France’s flag carrier has said that it will build on its alliance with Kenyan Airways by making Nairobi its base of operations in East Africa. Abidjan, the largest city in Cote d’Ivoire, will become the airline’s West African regional hub in five to ten years time.  

A region hub and a gateway to the continent

The Abidjan plan seems to make sense for Air France. France has maintained strong ties with francophone West Africa, and there is a steady stream of travelers and business people moving between Europe and Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Togo and other French-speaking nations in the region. 

Air France’s plan also makes sense in the bigger picture. West Africa has become economically important to the world because of resources like oil, timber, cocoa and rubber. The region’s more-stable countries have modest, but growing, tourism industries. Major hotel brands have noticed the possibilities and started building properties in places like Nigeria. Airlines are starting to add flights and create growth strategies for destinations from Morocco to Ghana. Like Air France, the first step is to launch international service and, then, to find a base from which they can branch out to other parts of the continent. 

Other airlines jostling for position in Africa

Air Canada is getting in the game. This past autumn, it announced that, in the summer of 2016, it would begin offering direct flights from Montreal to Casablanca, Morocco. Unlike many of the destinations to the south, Morocco already has an established mainstream tourism industry. Since Montreal is a French-speaking city like Casablanca, the new service can help introduce Quebecois business travelers to the African marketplace. To gain interest in its new route, Air Canada is reportedly planning to offer low introductory fares of CAD$869 round trip (that’s about US$650). 

Even airlines from other parts of Africa are looking into establishing hubs in the continent’s west. South African Airways has been focusing on Accra, Ghana as a potential regional base, and Ethiopian Airlines is interested in the same location. 

African airlines expanding abroad too

For the most part, the expansions plans involve airlines from outside of the region coming into the West Africa. One of North Africa’s largest carriers, Royal Air Maroc, is looking outward. The airline will fly between Casablanca and Washington, D.C. starting next September. The flights will utilize the carriers brand new Boeing Dreamliner (Maroc also flies to JFK and Montreal).  

Could airlines’ increased interest in Africa be a sign of an impeding travel boom? Much has already been made of Africa’s potential as an investment destination. Airlines will probably focus on business travelers first. 

Whatever their long-term focus, airlines are definitely starting to think about getting their foot in the door in West and Northwest Africa. These early entrants into the marketplace will have a distinct advantage if and when things take off in these buzzed-about regions.  

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