Harare: Air Botswana has joined a number of national airlines in the SADC region to negotiate a partnership to exploit the opportunities offered by the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

The negotiations are aimed at striking a deal to make sure that Air Botswana and its counterparts from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Zambia jointly service southern Africa.

Air Zimbabwe chief executive, Peter Chikumba, said the airlines will also promote the region as an attractive tourism destination.The regional airlines will work jointly under a ‘Visit Southern Africa’ campaign, said Chikumba during a presentation on regional transport and tourism development at a tourism fair in Bulawayo last week.

The Sanganai/Hlanganani World Travel and Tourism Africa fair ran from Wednesday to Sunday, attracting 800 exhibitors from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe.

“As we look forward to the 2010 World Cup, we are talking as a joint group.  In fact, we have started discussions between Air Zimbabwe, Air Botswana, South African Airways, Air Namibia and Zambia on partnerships and promoting southern Africa as a whole as a tourist destination,” he said.

Winnie Mudariki of South African Airways said it was imperative for southern African airlines to close ranks because if they remained divided, bigger foreign competitors could seize the opportunity and enter the market.

She said tourism literature on southern Africa will be put on 21 airlines operating under Star Alliance, thus reaching out to a bigger and more international travelling audience.
“There will be material on this (Visit Southern Africa) campaign in in-flight magazines of the 21 airlines on the Star Alliance group which South African Airways belongs to as well as a 10-minute video presentation running well into 2010.”

Southern African economies are looking forward to benefiting tremendously through the hosting of the soccer World Cup in South Africa.

Chikumba said regional airlines had a lot in common which they could use to improve their operations.”If we are to work together, we will set minimum standards that every airline in the arrangement will have to adhere to and this will improve safety standards, for instance.  We might require that each airline get IATA certification, for instance.

“We will build on the strength of the stronger airlines to bolster the weaker ones.  It is no secret that an Angolan airline has been banned from travelling to Europe, but it has to be assisted because those in the West will just paint every airline from Africa with the same brush if nothing is done about that.”He implored governments in the region to liberate the skies to ease work for airlines.

DATED: 23rd October 2008