THE huge increases in airport tariffs will hurt the tourism industry and damage a range of specialist export industries that bring much needed new money into the country, says the Cape Chamber of Commerce.
Airport tariffs are set to rise by 161 percent in the next five years and the result, according to the International Air Transport Association, would be the highest airport tariffs in the world.
“What makes the situation even worse is that the highest fees are applied to international flights and those are the ones that are critical for the growth of our economy,” said Mr Michael Bagraim, president of the Chamber.
He pointed out that tariffs for an international passenger arriving in Cape Town would be R262.28 while a passenger on a domestic flights would pay only R96.46.
“We have to ask why it costs so much more to land a flight from overseas than it does to land a domestic flight? They use the same runway, the same control tower and all the services are similar. In addition the airports make more money out of international travellers through their duty-free shops.”
The differential between international and domestic charges has also been criticised by IATA which feels charges should be based on actual costs and that there should be no cross-subsidisation.
“It is clear that ACSA treats tourists as cash cows,” said Mr Bagraim. “It is a disastrous policy for these are the kind of visitors the country should be encouraging. They are the people who bring new money into the country and it is estimated that one job is created for every 16 foreign tourists.
“The price of long-haul air tickets puts us at a disadvantage when compared to other tourism destinations and now ACSA has made the situation worse by piling excessive airport charges on to foreign travellers.”
Mr Bagraim said it was not surprising that IATA regarded South Africa’s regulator as a phantom figure. “Surely the regulator should be able to stamp out this organised fleecing of international travellers!”
Also affected by the high airport tariffs are South Africa’s high value exports. “These are the exports that create the most jobs and it is essential that they are protected from exploitive airport charges because this undermines their ability to compete in international markets.
“One is these exporters is Quantum Sails, a winner in the Chamber’s Exporter of the Year competition. Quantum told us that almost every night they load sails onto aircraft bound for France so these huge tariff hikes are going to hurt them and they could lose business.”
Other high value exports that went by air ranged from flowers to electronic goods and components.
“These exporters are important and the country should do everything possible to encourage them. If anything, there is a case to help them and not undermine their ability to compete with overseas rivals,” Mr Bagraim said.