By Farai Mabeza
THE expansion of the Victoria Falls International Airport has seen global arrivals increasing by 25 percent in the first half of this year, but industry players say there is need for government to ensure air access to other tourist destinations across the country.
The $150 million Chinese-funded expansion of the Victoria Falls International Airport, completed late last year, has seen more international airlines introducing flights into the resort town.
These include Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines.
South African Airways introduced bigger aircraft on the route.
Kenya Airways, which introduced its flights in May, flies three times a week between Nairobi, Victoria Falls and Cape Town, while Ethiopian Airlines, which came on board later, flies four times a week into Victoria Falls on a route that also includes Gaborone.
“Victoria Falls remains key for us but we are also worried by the numbers into the Eastern Highlands, into Kariba. Accessibility is still an issue. The only way to get to those destinations is by road and there is a lot of work that needs to be done on the state of our roads,” said Zimbabwe Council of Tourism president, Tich Hwingwiri.
Currently, many of the country’s other tourist attractions rely on local tourism for 95 percent of their business because of lack of air access, while Victoria Falls gets 50 percent of its business from international tourists.
The new flights into Victoria Falls have provided a boost to the tourism sector, according to Africa Albida Tourism whose flagship property is the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.
“There is significantly good news for the industry and for the country. We are starting to feel the impetus of the airport. Already we have a huge number of passenger seats, it’s over a 100 000 airline seats committed to come for the rest of the year,” said Dave Glynn, Africa Albida Tourism chairman.
“During the first six months of the year, international arrivals were up by 25,4 percent, which is really significant,” he said.
The four kilometre runway at the airport can land any wide bodied aircraft.
Glynn said the impact of the airport would be felt even outside the country’s borders.
“Once those volumes start to really arrive it will justify the linkages of the airlines going out from Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls will become a significant hub airport because of its new facilities. That means it will service the region as well as internal Zimbabwe destinations,” Glynn said.
At the moment internal tourism is suffering from lack of air linkages and poor infrastructure.
“You can’t get to Hwange, you can’t get to Kariba. You can’t get to the eastern highlands by air. Those linkages we are sure will come as the volumes rise as the air access increase,” Glynn said.
“What is of interest is that the international visitors increased by 15 percent last year but it wasn’t visible because the local industry had really diminished quite substantially and the reasons given in a survey (commissioned by government) included roadblocks, shortage of cash and difficult economic conditions.
“But the outlook is very strong for Victoria Falls driven by the airport which is a really visionary investment and decision by government,” Glynn said.
The airport was refurbished at a cost of $150 million and has a handling capacity of 1,5 million passengers annually. firstname.lastname@example.org