The business of travel in Angola

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I had been to Luanda, the capital of Angola, once before. That was almost 10 years ago and I remember being impressed by the level of construction that was going on to modernise the city – a sea of cranes dominating the skyline.

At the time, the thought of enjoying a holiday in Luanda couldn’t be further from my mind. The city, which retained many of the trappings of its former Portuguese colonial masters, including the language and cuisine, held little appeal for a traveller coming for a long weekend or even week-long holiday.

I thought that may change when I heard that South Africans no longer needed a visa to visit Angola for leisure, especially with air access being so much easier and affordable from Cape Town and Johannesburg with TAAG Angolan Airlines.

But it would seem it takes more than an open visa regime and improved air access to make a leisure destination and Luanda is sadly a long way off from that, as the African Business Travel Association (ABTA) event I attended in Luanda last month eventually revealed.

One of the main points of discussion was the cost of hotels in Angola. With no international brands, and only a few four- and five-star options available in the city, the cost of hotel accommodation in Luanda is exorbitant.

As one delegate mentioned during the event: the equivalent hotel in South Africa would be a quarter of the price. For a cost-conscious leisure traveller, the limited variety and high costs would make even a short city break in Luanda three times the price of a leisure destination like Victoria Falls, Cape Town and Maputo, for example.

Return hotel transfers per person were US$110 (R1,500) for a 14km drive, while a basic meal with a soft drink cost almost R300. It’s not just a hotel thing, if that’s what you’re thinking.

Luanda is consistently cited as one of the most expensive cities in the world. In fact, the Mercer Cost of Living Survey has Angola as the sixth most-expensive city in the world, and the most expensive in Africa.

Among travel companies, there was even some confusion as to what constituted leisure travel, with many believing it to be the same as business travel. At the ABTA event, founding partner Monique Swart illustrated the difference saying: “Leisure travel is holidays and vacations, tours and tourist guides, spending time with family and, most of all, paid by the traveller. This kind of travel is managed by a travel agency.

“Corporate travel is MICE, making money for your company, signing new deals, meeting new business partners, missing your family and, most of all, paid by the company. This kind of travel is management by a Travel Management Company (TMC).”

The consensus among delegates at the event was the most of the travel conducted to Angola remains corporate travel, not leisure. And that some work would need to be done, especially in the area of hotel accommodation, to make the destination more affordable for leisure travellers.

Ideally, with TAAG’s efforts in the South African market to position Luanda as a through-hub to Portugal, you would hope the destination’s tourism authorities would capitalise on the city’s potential stop-over status.

Piri Piri chicken and a cold Cuca beer on Ilha de Luanda anyone? I’d be one of the first to sign up.