Wednesday, 14 September 2011
The tourism sector has been hard hit by challenges facing Air Zimbabwe amid concerns that it may not register the projected 6 percent growth due to a drastic decline in tourist arrivals to key resort areas, particularly Victoria Falls.
The grounding of Air Zimbabwe planes recently, due to protracted labour disputes, has resulted in massive cancellation of bookings by tourists who had planned to visit Victoria Falls.
Victoria Falls is the country’s prime tourist destination.
Tourism players estimate that at least 80 percent of bookings have been cancelled so far since the Airzim pilots went on strike in July.
With no solution in sight, they said, the situation would destroy the growing positive perception about Zimbabwe’s tourism among international visitors.
The tourism industry is one of the sectors expected to underpin economic revival.
The Medium Term Plan also projects that the sector would further expand by an average 7 percent in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
“Achieving the same growth that we had anticipated is now unlikely due to a sharp decline of tourist arrivals in Victoria Falls,” said Zimbabwe Council for Tourism president Mr Emmanuel Fundira.
“The grounding of Air Zimbabwe planes has really affected the flow of tourists to Victoria Falls as evidenced by cancellation of bookings.”
While using chartered flights or flying via South Africa are some of the alternative ways of travelling to Victoria Falls, these options are expensive.
A chartered flight on small planes which can carry up to 12 passengers costs between US$4 000 and US$8 000 from Harare to Victoria Falls while commercial planes charge up to US$600 per passenger via Johannesburg. Travelling by road is not an option for most tourists as it is time consuming. It would require two travelling days.
“One of the valuable commodities (of tourists) is time and without easy access to our destinations this will affect inflows of tourists.
“We have a lot of tourists who are flying from Harare or Bulawayo to Victoria Falls via South Africa and this is very expensive,” said Mr Herbert Nkala, a tourism consultant who also runs a travel agency.
An official with Rainbow Tourism Group said the grounding of Air Zimbabwe planes had dented the growing confidence in the sector.
The official said the group, which operates a hotel and two lodges in Victoria Falls, had been affected by limited air access to the destination.
“We have certainly been affected and it is very unlikely that we will record brisk business as we would have wanted, especially during the forthcoming festive season. The situation is not good for the whole industry,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Shearwater Adventures public relations manager Mr Clement Mkwasi said the Victoria Falls was loosing its prime market share to Zambia due to the absence of Air Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe shares Victoria Falls with its northern neighbour.
“The absence of Air Zimbabwe is hitting us and this is affecting all tourism related businesses such as taxi operators and hotels,” said Mr Mkwasi, whose company is involved it helicopter flights and hotels in the resort town.
He added that considering that September is a tourism month, Zimbabwe was supposed to deliver “maximum efficiency.”
In his mid-term fiscal policy statement Finance Minister Tendai Biti who indicated that the tourism sector had registered growth during the first half of the year, bemoaned the challenges facing the national airline saying they were having a negative effect on the sector’s growth.
“Tourism performance could have been enhanced during the first half of 2011 had it not been for the challenges facing the national airline which constrained tourists mobility in the country.
“This is more so, given delays in the implementation of the “Open Skies” policy, which allows operation of other airlines,” he said.
Zimbabwe recorded a decline in arrivals between 2000 and 2008 due to safety concerns and an unstable political environment.
But the country has been registering growth since the formation of the coalition Government of the three main political parties.
According to reports, Air Zimbabwe is losing about US$8 million every month to foreign airlines, particularly South African Airways and Kenyan Airways which are servicing most routes previously done by Air Zim.
Negotiations to end the pilots’ strike are failing to bear fruit, as the embattled airline cannot raise money to settle the outstanding salaries and allowances.