The leisure-focused airline will operate up to three weekly return flights year-round.

In a major tourism coup for Mpumalanga and South Africa’s world-renowned Kruger National Park, German airline giant Lufthansa Group’s leisure-carrier Eurowings Discover on Wednesday commenced direct international flights between Frankfurt and the province.

This represents the first ever scheduled long-haul international air service to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA).

Eurowings Discover will operate up to three weekly return flights between Germany’s financial capital and Mpumalanga with a year-round service.

Its inaugural flight touched down at KMIA in Mbombela just after 2pm on Wednesday, after a short stopover in Namibia’s capital Windhoek.

According to Lufthansa Group, Eurowings Discover has a strong commercial focus on leisure destinations on the African continent.

“Kruger Mpumalanga is the seventh destination offered by Eurowings Discover on the continent after already starting services from Frankfurt to Mombasa, Zanzibar, Mauritius, Windhoek, Victoria Falls and Kilimanjaro,” it notes in a statement.

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“We are both thrilled and proud to start flight operations between Frankfurt and Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport as the first intercontinental airline ever [to do so],” said Helmut Woelfel, chief commercial officer at Eurowings Discover.

“For me personally, it is a special pleasure to be on board today’s Eurowings Discover inaugural flight.

“It is a truly unique addition not only to our own leisure portfolio but also to the whole Lufthansa Group network,” added Woelfel.

He said the new route would make it “easier for travellers from all over Europe to experience the beauty and diversity of this stunning nature and wildlife reserve, which is particularly popular with holidaymakers from Germany”.

Welcoming Eurowings Discover’s direct flights to the province, Mpumalanga MEC for Finance, Economic Development and Tourism Nompumelelo Hlophe, said: “We are very excited about the landing of the first ever direct flight from Germany.”

She added: “This is a sign of trust and confidence in our tourism industry. We’re very delighted that this will further expose and promote the destination of Mpumalanga as an international tourist destination of choice.”

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Hlophe said she is certain that the direct flights by Eurowings Discover will increase the number of international tourists from Germany and Europe in general coming into the province.

“We welcome the initiative, and we encourage other airlines to also consider flying directly into our province.”

Nomasonto Ndlovu, chief operating officer at SA Tourism, pointed out that Germany is a key tourism source market for South Africa.

“We know from our insights and from our engagement with German tourists that they want to be outdoors exploring and enjoying nature. Mpumalanga offers this and more…”

“South Africa is indeed open for business and we invite visitors from this market to use South Africa’s extensive network also to explore the other parts of our country as we have a wide variety of tourism products and experiences,” she said.

German Ambassador to SA Andreas Peschke said the new route is really good news, both for South Africa as a tourism destination and for German visitors who want to enjoy this part of the country.

According to Eurowings Discover, the aircraft operating on the new route to Mpumalanga will have up to 300 seats, with up to 30 being Business Class (full lie-flat seats).

Landmark landing

Commenting on the landmark landing, KMIA CEO Grant Ponting, said: “Watching the wheels touchdown today [Wednesday] was an incredible moment for all of us.”

“We are proud of our role in this game changing route development and look forward to collaborating with all stakeholders to fully realise the potential of our region’s wonderful tourist assets and the sustainability of this direct intercontinental schedule to and from Europe,” added Ponting.

“It is a great day for tourism and the province of Mpumalanga,” said Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa.

“The Eurowings direct flight shows confidence in destination South Africa and more and more tourists want to explore our beautiful country.

The flight to Mpumalanga will increase the number of visitors to the Lowveld and Limpopo Province. We want to invite more airlines to consider flying to different parts South Africa.”

This article originally appeared on Moneyweb and was republished with permission. Read the original article here.