The rapid spread of the Coronavirus across the world has begun to have a direct effect on the Botswana airspace with significantly reduced traffic expected over the coming weeks – Civil Aviation Authority Botswana (CAAB) has revealed.
CAAB says the decline in overflight movements follows that of the international passenger traffic, where the most decline has been registered this month (March 2020).
The numbers are expected to decrease at an increasing rate with more air operators continuing to temporarily ban or reduce frequencies in their operations as more and more countries continue to adopt strict travel restrictions in order to contain the deadly COVID-19.
“International Passenger Traffic was as expected during the first two months of the year 2020 despite the outbreak of COVID-19. However, a notifiable decline of 3271(21.8%) international passengers was recorded at Botswana’s four (4) international airports,” said Modipe Nkwe, Head of Public Relations & Communications at CAAB.
He said while there has been a continual decline in the number of operators using Botswana’s airspace (overflights) recorded since January 2020 in comparison to the same period in the past year 2019 , with an average decrease of 9.4% in the first three months of 2020, the decline is expected to get steeper due to the viral outbreak.
“It is evident that the Aviation Industry is not immune to the negative of effects of the continued spread of the COVID-19. Airport traffic volumes are expected to go down as there would be a traffic downfall,” Nkwe said in an interview.
He said cconsidering that the outbreak is more recent in the region (with continuously growing numbers of infections in neighboring South Africa) it is expected that travelers and airlines will adjust their plans and seat offers in the coming weeks.
Earlier this past week HATAB Chief Executive Officer Lily Rakorong announced they were already experiencing cancelations of tourist bookings as a result of the viral outbreak. “Arrivals have declined at hospitality establishments.”
Botswana Tourism Organization (BTO) Chief Executive Officer Myra Sekgororoane also announced plans to cancel international arrivals and departures as a result of the pandemic.
“We are already reviewing international expos and fairs,” she told the media at Avani Gaborone Resort this past week.
Wilderness Safaris, one of Africa’s largest and best known luxury and sustainable safaris operator, also expressed concerns about the impact of the virus on the tourism business as more and more travel restrictions are imposed by governments on their respective citizens. “While it is early for us to comment on the likely impact in Botswana, for now it suffices to say this could be extremely serious,” Commercial Director and Head of Risk Management Derek de la Harpe said on Friday.
According to CAAB, impacts on travel will likely be felt into the second quarter of 2020, requiring further monitoring and analysis.
“In addition to the official bans and restrictions on travel, reduced business and leisure travel, there is a general travel confidence issue causing consumers to pull demand forward, events being cancelled and businesses reducing their normal activity.The shortfall in the number of passengers and the cancellation of flights will lead to reduced revenues from airport charges,” said CAAB Head of Public Relations & Communications.
However, while aeronautical revenues are being challenged during this period, the cost base for airport charges remains unchanged as airports can neither close nor relocate their terminals during the outbreak, CAAB’s Nkwe said.
Airport operators, CAAB said, remain first and foremost concerned with protecting the health and welfare of travellers, their staff and the public, and reducing opportunities for transmission of communicable diseases.
Nkwe said the CAAB themselves have started communicating with staff members manly at the airports in advising them on the best ways to avoid infection, measures they should take.
“We are procuring the necessary protective clothing for them. We will in the next week be taking our awareness campaign to the travelling public and all our stakeholders using our operation or visiting our operations to facilitate safe operations as well as continuously looking at other ways of reaching out not only to those we are in business with, but the general public as we run four International entry points.”