EDITORIAL COMMENT: Govt should continue refurbishing airports

Victoria Falls International Airport

Victoria Falls International Airport

On November 18 last year, President Mugabe commissioned the new Victoria Falls International Airport, built over four years at a cost of $150 million.

China Export Import Bank provided the loan and China Jiangsu International won the tender to construct a national masterpiece that not only has capacity to handle larger aircraft, but also more passengers. It can now handle 1,5 million passengers per year, up from 500 000.  In addition, the airport is equipped with more modern facilities, a new international terminal building, a new four kilometre runway and more aircraft parking space. A new control tower, new fire station, new road networks, a new state of the art international passenger terminal building and a refurbished domestic terminal were also put in place.

Officially opening the edifice, President Mugabe said it would attract more tourists and accommodate longer haul planes

“This development indeed signifies exciting times ahead for our aviation and tourism sectors,” he said. “The upgrading of the airport paves way for Victoria Falls Town to become a tourist hub for Zimbabwe, Sadc and the rest of the continent. After the completion of this project, visitors and tourists from Europe, Asia, and the Middle-East can fly directly into Victoria Falls and experience one of the Seven Wonders of the World. There are well advanced plans for several airlines to fly directly to Victoria Falls.”

Four months after the inauguration of the airport, two giants have introduced flights into Victoria Falls. First to land a bigger craft at the facility was South African Airways on March 1. A 222-passenger Airbus is now flying into the premier tourist resort daily from South Africa. On Sunday, Ethiopian Airlines launched the first of its four weekly flights from Addis Ababa to Victoria Falls. Another African heavyweight, Kenyan Airways is expected to begin direct flights to and from Victoria Falls thrice a week from Nairobi on May 18.

Events of the past four weeks highlight the magic that world class infrastructure can work for an economy, nay the potential that a modern, larger airport has in boosting tourism.

We expect more airlines to follow suit.  Victoria Falls as a tourist destination is indeed poised for more tourist arrivals. This means more business for the tourism and hospitality operators and more money for the economy.

The sector contributes about 11 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP) but with more modern infrastructure like the Victoria Falls International Airport, the Government’s vision of attracting five million tourists to create a $5 billion industry, contributing 15 percent to the GDP by 2020 can indeed be attained.

We urge the Government to continue with its national airport refurbishment programme in strategic areas such as the south-east lowveld, eastern border highlands, Masvingo, Kariba and Hwange. Just a few days ago, the Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development, Dr Joram Gumbo said the Government is in talks with China Export Import Bank for the Chinese financier to fund the expansion of the Harare International Airport. Having funded the building of the Victoria Falls International Airport already, among other infrastructural projects in the country, we are hopeful that the Chinese financial institution will continue on that path.

Other investments should be made to go with new airports so that the local tourism product can continue growing. As more direct flights are landing in Victoria Falls, the accommodation shortage that has been there already will certainly worsen. By 2012, Victoria Falls had around 2 200 rooms but the Zimbabwe Tourism Association said then that there was a need for up to 1 500 new ones by this year. We are sure that the industry did not add 1 500 more rooms over the past five years.

That is as far as Victoria Falls goes, but with more airports being built or existing ones being expanded in tourist destinations across the country, there is a compelling need for corresponding investment in accommodation facilities in those centres.

But world class facilities are not the magic bullet. There are many other factors that come into play to bring more airlines to a destination and grow a country’s tourism industry. We have peace in our country, which is a blessing.  Peace is one of the biggest factors necessary when attracting tourists. Take away peace and stability, tourists flee and economies suffer. For our country, the prevailing peace is our biggest tourist attraction.

The ZTA must continue marketing the destination to complement ongoing investments in infrastructure thus ensure that the tourism industry grows, boosting the whole economy in the process.

Article Source: The Chronicle