BY mid-morning on Saturday November 19, 2016 the Victoria Falls International Airport was already littered with a coterie of aircrafts – from wide bodied to small ones. The previous day, President Mugabe had set the ball rolling after commissioning the new-look world class airport and it was already humming with traffic, some planes preparing to take off while some had their engines still running after a safe landing and others were in the hangar.
Amid the new and refreshing architectural splendour, one could see a British Airways Boeing 737-800 series kissing the running as it landed, the springbok Boeing 737-800 series of South African Airways, Air Zimbabwe’s Boeing 767 and Air Namibia’s Embraer 135 all looking like ghostly figures across the airfield.
It’s a new look state-of-the-art airport after the Government of Zimbabwe secured $150 million loan from a Chinese bank towards its refurbishment. The international airport, which thrives on the spectacular world class tourist attraction, the mighty Victoria Falls, is expected to boost tourist arrivals, now that it can accommodate wide-bodied aircraft.
And with some countries like South Africa, which are indirectly benefiting from this grand airport, now upping their game and advertising the Victoria Falls like it was their own, the new international airport seems to have opened floodgates for airlines from across the globe.
After all, with a new 4km long and 60 metres wide runway, nothing can stop this new airport from welcoming aircraft of any size. Zimbabwe is also a signatory to the 1999 Yamassoukro Declaration which promotes an open skies policy and was ratified by over 14 African countries.
With the airport now operating 24/7, tourists now have reason to make a date with one of the world’s renowned natural wonders described by the colonial explorer David Livingstone as “so beautiful that even Angels on their flight would have stopped and gazed!”
Victoria Falls is now within touching distance to the world but how does Zimbabwe stand to realise the gains from this multi-million dollar project?
In this day and age where the world has become one global village, air transportation is fast proving a vital cog in the development of economies hence the ‘‘open skies policy’’ mantra reaching fever pitch at every Government economic recovery strategy fora.
In his address during the official opening of the Victoria Falls Airport, President Mugabe was quick to point to the need by the Government to quickly restructure the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) to separate the regulatory authority from airport management functions in line with international best practices.
“Now that the Victoria Falls Airport is complete, I urge the ministry (of Transport and Infrastructure Development) to move to achieving our aim to make Zimbabwe the regional hub of Southern Africa,” said President Mugabe.
The Victoria Falls are by far one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions. Before the refurbishment of the airport, wide bodied planes were landing in Livingstone, Zambia, yet the most attractive sites of the falls are in Zimbabwe.
As they say, the Victoria Falls are like a woman, if you want to see the backside you go to Zambia and if you want the front, you obviously come to Zimbabwe. In order to reap the full benefits from the Victoria Falls International Airport, there is need to free the air space and Tourism and Hospitality Minister, Dr Walter Mzembi, is on record calling for the open skies policy.
There is also need to review prices across all sectors, setting attractive accommodation prices as well as those for other activities so as to lure more tourists to the destination.
“Besides the open skies policy, there is also need for us to be competitive as a destination. As it is some countries are benefiting through offering affordable prices and encouraging tourists across the globe to come to their countries where they would be offered packages to fly to Victoria Falls and back with Zimbabwe getting a small chunk of the cake as tourists chose the cheaper way,” said Dr Mzembi.
Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe president George Manyuma said the tourism sector would be gathering for its annual conference soon with the issue of prices one of the items on the agenda.
He says with the prevailing pricing regime, Zimbabwe was out-bidding itself despite it being one of the best destinations in southern Africa. “There has been a lot of talk about high prices in the tourism industry and in our annual conference the pricing regime would be part of the agenda,” he said. .
– Zimpapers Syndication.