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TThe correlation between airlift and recovery

Demand is increasing across all of South Africa’s priority markets and as expected, the recovery of markets with air access is greater than that of markets without. On average, recovery to 2019 levels is 10% greater among the markets with direct air access (48.2%) compared to the recovery of markets that must rely on connections to get to South Africa (37.4%), indicating that the airlift markets are driving the recovery. Overall recovery in 2022 for South Africa as a destination thus far is 45% on the 2019 levels1.

Brazil, which is one of South Africa’s key priority markets, slows down significantly (at just 17%) compared to other markets, and this is driven by a need for airlift for this route and to meet demand. In 2022, Brazil has been quickly recovering its pre-pandemic traffic figures, according to Forward Keys2. In the first six months, the country had 44.7 million passengers, a 77.5% recovery compared to the traffic figures in 2019, when it had 57.6 million travellers. Brazilian tourists to Australia have remained very low, with year-to-date arrivals at just 28.2% of the arrivals in the same period of 2019. Direct air routes do not connect Brazil and Australia. However, Brazil’s top three most resilient markets are Portugal (+40%), Spain (+4%), and the USA (-6%), with reported growth versus pre-pandemic times. Portugal is connected to Brazil with 76 flights per week has enjoyed significant positive growth and has not only recovered but is up 40% above 2019 levels. Spain is a neighbouring destination serviced by in-direct routes and sees a lower rate of growth, up just 4% above 2019 levels.

The importance of the Brazilian market to South Africa and its underperformance in 2022

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the recovery of arrivals from Brazil has been muted compared to other markets with direct air access. Pre-pandemic, Brazil contributed 77 261 arrivals in 2019 (0.8%) of all arrivals and was among the top 10 overseas markets. However, in 2022 Brazil is trailing behind as number 21 in the overseas market and so far contributing just 0.2% of arrivals. Before the pandemic (2019), Brazil contributed R1 billion in tourism spend, 1.2% of total tourist revenue in South Africa at the time3. Spend from Brazilian tourists in the first half of 2022 was R157.4 million, this is just 0.7% of the total spend by tourists in 2022; in 2019, Brazil’s first half spend was 1.3% of total spend in South Africa in the first half of the year.

The profile of tourists from Brazil has changed in 2022, with 66% of the arrivals being leisure tourists, 39% being Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR) tourists, and 27% for holidays. Pre-pandemic, this profile was inverted, with the majority of the leisure tourists being holiday tourists (52%) compared to 9% VFR tourists. Two-thirds of Brazilian arrivals reside in Sao Paulo and equal numbers visit Gauteng and Western Cape – these have consistently been the most visited provinces over the years (pre-pandemic and in 2021 and 2022) followed by Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Brazil was among the top five markets in terms of provincial visitation, with an average of 1.84a provinces visited, behind Argentina, Chile, Netherlands, and France. In 2022 thus far, the average number of provinces visited by Brazilian tourists has dropped to 1.36 provinces, and has fallen to number 14 in terms of provincial visitation.

The total outbound from Brazil is expected to be 6.5 million in 2022, of this 5.1 million are long-haul flights outbound to destinations at least six hours away by air4. Outbound to South Africa from Brazil is expected to be just 26 530 in 2022, this represents a market share of 0.52% of long-haul travel, down from a share of 0.89% in 2019, pre-pandemic.

Brazilians are generally not risk averse, and with easier access to South Africa, they would be among the leading growth markets. Alternate routes, popular with Brazilians for getting to South Africa, are through the Middle East (61% of bookings in 2022 thus far). However, TAAG, via Angola, is the third most used route; this airline announced an increase in Brazilian frequencies, which allows tourists to connect to Johannesburg or Cape Town5. This increase underlines the importance of Brazilian outbound and demand for travel to Africa and South Africa.

What the trade must do to sell South Africa

South Africa is perceived as a unique destination offering adventure, wildlife, and welcoming people as per the brand survey conducted by South African Tourism6. Brazilians can look forward to engaging in our events, eating out, nightlife, and interactions with locals. They enjoy beautiful scenery, natural attractions, and a variety of experiences including adventure, culture, and heritage.

South Africa (as a destination brand and the trade as brand ambassadors) need to maintain a tone of fun, adventure, and socialising in its marketing messages to engage this market with attractive offers highlighting nightlife, local cuisine, and a diversity of attractions and activities, which provide opportunities to meet new people and engage with locals7. Brazilian tourists are interested in wildlife (they engage in short stay/same-day safari experiences); however, focus more on understanding other cultures.

The difference an airline makes

The ratio between seats and arrivals in the period when LATAM serviced the route was on average 48 arrivals to every 100 seats available, the ratio over the past decade was 36 arrivals to every 100 seats available. Should LATAM return to the route, the potential arrivals would depend on the number of flights and the aircraft configuration8.

Assuming the same schedule as before the pandemic, with three flights a week on Airbus A350-900 with 7 120 seats per month on average on LATAM, the range of outcomes are placed between 2 492 (36%) and 3 417 (48%) of the seats available. This would represent between 38% and 53% of the average monthly arrivals in 2019. The re-introduction of LATAM is likely to contribute to a doubling or tripling of monthly arrivals and a two-fold or three-fold boost in recovery9.

The impact of an airline flying direct between South Africa and Brazil is expected to improve recovery of trade indicating that the route is vitally important in this price-sensitive market and is a major barrier for travellers according to the South African Tourism Brand Tracker. "Sao Paulo is a vitally important travel hub that opens the whole of South America to Africa and the world. Without this central point, travel to South Africa becomes logistically complicated and very expensive – especially for the Brazilian price-sensitive market. The GRU-JNB makes travel to South Africa not only more accessible but also more affordable. Without this route, we would also see the traditional holiday stay of 14 days, reduce to 10-12 days, due to an otherwise longer flight itinerary (without the direct flight). Pre-COVID, statistics show that Brazil favoured South Africa as their travel destination" says Ederval Carbonaro - Latin America Sales Manager at Africa by Design (an SA-based DMC). Similarly, travel time is a barrier for Brazilian travellers. "Having a direct flight is extremely important for our market. We face enormous resistance from travellers and travel agents regarding the flight time of the routes currently available through the Arab Emirates and also regarding the difficulties of connections in other countries in Africa." As stated by Diego Carosini, Relationship Manager at São Paulo based TO Viagens & Cia.


  1. SA Tourism Arrivals analysis (StatsSA Migration & Tourism Report)
  2. Forward Keys article on Brazilian recovery
  3. SA Tourism Departure survey analysis
  4. Oxford Economics outbound analysis
  5. Tourism Update Article
  6. SA Tourism Brand Tracker Survey
  7. SA Tourism Consumer Insights Activator and Segmentation
  8. Forward Keys Seats and Flight Capacity data
  9. SA Tourism Insights Analysis


  1. the average number of provinces visited is a measure of provincial distribution. Most international tourists to South Africa visit one province. The way the index works: the higher/bigger the number, the better the provincial distribution and the closer to 1, indicates almost no tourists visit more than one province

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