A study undertaken by airline analytics firm ForwardKeys suggests the African island of Madagascar is poised to experience a tourism-driven boom this year: While visitor arrivals in East Africa country improved 8 percent between 2017 and 2018, they were up 19 percent for the first five months of 2019, and bookings through August are 34 percent ahead of what they were at the beginning of June last year.
ForwardKeys credits certain markets for the growth. Arrivals from France (excluding the Reunion Island), the top source of visitors, were uo 33 percent over 2018; arrivals from the ‘Vanilla Islands’ (Reunion, Mauritius, Mayotte, Comores and the Seychelles) were up 21 percent and from Italy were up 37 percent.
Markets that experienced declines in late 2017 and early 2018—South Africa, Germany, Great Britain and China—all returned. Only the United States, which is Madagascar’s 8th most important origin market, continued to decline but the degree of decline fell.
In total, visitor numbers from the top ten origin markets are 38 percent ahead for the summer.
More than three quarters of visitors to Madagascar are tourists who stay for more than two weeks and 19 percent stay longer than a month. This relatively long length of stay is a key driver of economic growth for the destination, according to the report.
According to ForwardKeys, the most significant factor driving the improvement is a substantial increase in airline-seat capacity to Madagascar. For example, during the first five months of 2019, capacity to Europe increased by 81 percent on Air Madagascar, the island’s top carrier, with almost a third of the market. This June, the airline started a twice-weekly service to Johannesburg, making it easier for visitors from South Africa to visit.
Other key airlines like Air Austral or Air Mauritius also are increasing their capacities to Madagascar, by 23.6 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively, for January to September, compared to the same period the previous year.
In 2018, total international seat capacity had grown by just 1.8 percent, the data noted.
“According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, tourism is responsible for 15.7 percent of Madagascar’s economy and 33.4 percent of its total exports, so the increases we are seeing in air traffic lead us to expect that the country will experience a tourism-driven boom this year,” said Olivier Ponti, VP/insights for ForwardKeys.
Improving visitor numbers means more demand for hotels, and global companies are looking to Madagascar for development opportunities. In April, Radisson Hotel Group announced plans to debut in Madagascar—its 32nd African market—with the signing of a portfolio deal for two hotels and a serviced-apartment development for a total of 254 rooms. The agreement was signed with Madagascar-based real estate company Groupe Talys, and consists of two conversions and one property under construction, with all three scheduled to open in Antananarivo in 2020. (The company plans to at least double its Indian Ocean portfolio by 2022, targeting Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar and Reunion Island.)
Marriott International, meanwhile, is looking to have more than 200 hotels with 37,000 guestrooms open or in the pipeline by 2022, for approximately $8.5 billion of capital investment by its real estate partners. Madagascar is one of the destinations on the company's radar.