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How Visa Openness Drives Airline Traffic in Africa

Section of the newly Terminal 3

March 11, 2019//-One of the practical aspects of air travel is the ease with which people travelling from one country to another can enter a country.

In Africa, there is increasing attention paid to the role that visas play in this. According to the Africa Visa Openness Index1 Africans do not need a visa to travel to 25% of other African countries and in 2018 this figure was up from 22% in 2017, and 20% in 2016.

The fact that more African countries are opening up visa free travel to citizens of other African countries is a combination of the recognition of the importance of this for African integration and economic development, but also the way in which technology is streamlining processes which used to be cumbersome and bureaucratic.

According to the Index, Africans can now get visas on arrival in 24% of other African countries.
However, Africans still need visas to travel to 51% of other African countries showing that there is some way to go in making travel easier in this respect.

The trend is towards more openness, though, with 43 countries improving their score between the 2017 and 2018 index. Only the Seychelles and Benin achieve a perfect score in the Index, allowing visa-free travel from all African countries.

To see whether the visa process really makes a difference to the way people are travelling, we’ve taken a look at the growth in air travel from each African country to elsewhere in Africa in 2018 to see how this correlates with visa openness.

While this is a snapshot and clearly doesn’t include the large cross-border flows of people moving between countries on the ground, it still provide one lens with which to see the impact of a lighter touch visa regime.

The chart below shows air traffic growth, sourced from OAG, for each of the country markets which
recorded more than 450,000 international air passengers to another elsewhere in Africa in 2018
plotted against the Visa Openness Score. The size of each bubble reflects the market size.

What is shows is a discernible link between the degree with which countries allow visa on arrival and visa free travel, and the growth of air travel although there is wide variation between countries.
South Africa, with the largest intraAfrica aviation market, aided by the continents’ biggest hub airport operating at Johannesburg, scores relatively low for visa openness. For a wealthy African country like South Africa, the topic of visa on arrival or visa free entry is a sensitive topic, raising concerns about mass immigration.

In practice, there are fewer visa restrictions for Europeans travelling to Africa’s southernmost country than there are for Africans. Like South Africa, Ethiopia has a low score for visa openness. This may be surprising to those outside the continent who recognise the impact that Ethiopia has had on transforming air travel, aided by Ethiopian Airlines’
valiant efforts to create a functioning hub at Addis Ababa.

It could be argued that the hub connects people between countries outside Ethiopia itself, and therefore the visa regime has little impact. The government, however, has recognised the need for change and late in 2018 announced
a relaxation of the rules.

With Addis Ababa one of the world’s largest diplomatic hubs, this decision is likely to be a boon for the country’s hospitality and conference tourism sectors. The move follows countries such as Kenya and Rwanda which have also eased visa restrictions for intra-African travel. Today Kenya, with the second largest intra-Africa aviation market, scores well for visa openness.
Like Kenya, Ghana also scores well, a fact which places it ahead of potential competitors in its
aspiration to become a West African hub. In fact, of these larger African airports, Ghana has the
highest score for visa openness and has made rapid progress in recent years as a result of the
decision to grant visas on arrival, valid for 30 days, to travelers from all 54 of the Africa Union
Of course, there are always exceptions and unfortunately for Benin, which granted visa free access
for all Africans in 2017, the volume of air passengers between Benin and elsewhere in Africa appears
to have fallen in 2018.
There are many strong arguments for greater visa openness such as the impact on trade within the
continent, and the supporting role visa openness plays in attracting inward investment and enabling
business expansion, there are, of course, reasons too for reluctance but as with all benchmarking
exercises, comparisons such as this between countries and the relative performance achieved shines
a spotlight on the possible links between policy actions and outcomes.

Visas may not be the whole story when it comes to facilitating air travel and air travel growth in Africa, but it would appear from this analysis that greater connectivity is broadly linked to more open visa regimes. If greater
connectivity is the goal then there is a strong case for more open visa regimes.

African Eye Report


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