Updated: 2012-02-01 15:39
By Wang Wen and Li Jiabao (chinadaily.com.cn)
BEIJING-- South African Airways (SAA), Africa's largest airline by turnover, launched a non-stop route between Beijing and Johannesburg on Wednesday, which is the first direct route between the Chinese mainland and South Africa.
The first flight arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, after about 15-hours flying, and the entire flight time has been reduced by at least five hours with no stop-overs. SAA will operate the route three times a week using Airbus A340 aircraft.
The price of the flights will be competitive, compared with current flights with stopovers in Hong Kong, Singapore or Dubai, said Siza Mzimela, Chief Executive Officer of SAA.
"We will expand the route with daily flights in the future, if the business goes well," Mzimela said.
The booking for the flight tickets are healthy thus far, she added.
The tourism industry will get a positive boost from the direct route and business insiders forecast that the number of Chinese travelers to South Africa will double now that the direct route has been launched.
The growth of Chinese travelers to South Africa in 2012 will certainly exceed the rise in 2011, which was 18 percent, said Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, Minister of Tourism in the Republic of South Africa.
The direct flights, connecting Johannesburg and Beijing, will connect high-growing markets and thus facilitate transportation for investors to South Africa and South African investors to China, said officials and experts.
Chinahas become South Africa's largest trading partner for many consecutive years and business travelers will be the main users of the direct route.
"Both business and leisure travelers are our customers, but business traffic dominates, given China's growing economic presence in Africa," said Mzimela.
Statistics from the General Administration of Customs show that the gross value of imports and exports between China and South Africa was at $45.43 billion in 2011, up 76.7 percent over 2010.
By November, 2011, the cumulative investment from Chinese enterprises to South Africa was $7 billion.
"The non-stop route will contribute to business travel and opens new scope for increasing investment in South Africa, improving the business relationship," said Miller M. Matola, Chief Executive of the Board of Brand South Africa, an organization to promote the country's values and brands worldwide.
He added that agriculture will be a key area for deeper cooperation between the two emerging markets in the next 10 years while he expected China to "transfer labor and skills to South Africa".
Bheki W.J.Langa, ambassador of South Africa to China, said that "South Africa sees China as a priority market and more and more Chinese will go to visit South Africa".
"The embassy has eased the visa application process and all visas will be delivered within five workdays," he said.
SAA's new route will also make a positive contribution to the economies of China with other African and some South American countries, since South Africa is a gateway to Africa and Chinese passengers can transit to those countries from Johannesburg, said Ben Dikobe Martines, the Deputy Minister of the Department of Public Enterprises of South Africa.
The government of South Africa is establishing a free trade bloc covering 26 African countries with a potential market of over $1 trillion and South Africa serves as the gateway to the bloc, according to Anitha Soni, Chairman of the Board of Brand South Africa.