Zimbabwe is looking to improve its air connectivity, particularly to a number of domestic tourist attractions, as it seeks to improve the sector’s contribution to gross domestic product (GDP).
Key tourism players in the country such as the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) are on record having called on Government to improve Zimbabwe’s air connectivity.
The Government says it is looking to invest as well as attract foreign capital for the refurbishment and development of new domestic airstrips in at least six key tourist destinations around the country.
According to the new National Tourism Revival and Growth Strategy (2020 – 2025), the tourist destinations to get new airstrips include: Chirundu, Mana Pools, Nyanga, Kanyemba, Tugwi Mukosi, and Hwange National Park.
“To improve domestic air access, the public and private sector investments will be mobilised to develop airstrips in Chirundu, Mana Pools, Nyanga, Kanyemba, Tugwi Mukosi and Hwange National Park.
“This will help promote small players that operate aircraft, with less than 30 seats, which are ordinarily referred to as commuter airlines,” reads the new five-year tourism plan.
“This will be spearheaded by the Civil Aviation Authority and the District Development Fund together with interested private players.”
Besides the three main airports (the Robert Mugabe International Airport, the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Airport and the Victoria Falls International Airport), Zimbabwe’s significant smaller airports include the Buffalo Range Airport, which is situated near the Great Limpopo Trans-Frontier Park, which is a conservation area that combines Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou, Mozambique’s Great Limpopo and South Africa’s Kruger national parks to form one of the world’s largest wildlife reserves and the Kariba Airport, which offers a transport link to the Kariba Dam, a major tourist attraction.
Other key airports are Hwange Airport, which is located near the country’s largest national park, the Hwange National Park, and the Masvingo Airport, which offers access to the Great Zimbabwe Monument.
And Charles Prince Airport, which accommodates charter operators.
Air connectivity is widely considered a key driver for growth, especially for attractive tourist destinations.
And for Zimbabwe, improved local air connectivity will help boost floundering tourist inflows, particularly (but not exclusively) due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Official figures from the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism, and Hospitality Industry show that tourist arrivals into Zimbabwe increased from 1,7 million in 2012 to 2,56 million in 2018, with an average growth rate of 6 percent per annum over the period.
Over the same period, tourism receipts grew from US$749 million to US$1, 386 billion.
But in 2019 tourist arrivals into Zimbabwe registered an 11 percent decline from 2 579 974 to 2 294 259, while tourism receipts also declined from US$1,386 to US$1,247 billion over the same period.
The new domestic airstrips also dovetail with the goal of boosting domestic tourism in the country.
“Post the Covid-19 pandemic, domestic tourism is expected to provide a cushioning effect to the sector as international source markets are projected to take longer to recover.
“The strategy seeks to extensively promote domestic tourism development in close collaboration with the tourism private sector,” reads the policy paper.
“The domestic tourism campaign will also leverage on tourist assets operated by public institutions such as the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe to offer affordable and exciting products to the domestic market.”
Zimbabwe can draw lessons from the establishment of the Victoria Falls International Airport
When the Victoria Falls International Airport was commissioned in November 2016, there was a surge in tourist arrivals, with an 18,5 percent increase in hotel occupancy being recorded in 2017 compared to 2016, directly attributable to the new travel infrastructure.
And in terms of wider connectivity, the Government has committed to supporting the revival of the national airliner, Air Zimbabwe.
“Air Zimbabwe is envisaged to play a pivotal role towards destination Zimbabwe’s post Covid-19 tourism recovery.
“As such, it is vital for the Government to continue supporting the airline’s recapitalisation and capacity strengthening programme.
“This will enable the airline to improve its domestic air connectivity and introduce international services on old and new routes,” said Government.
The national airline owes foreign and domestic creditors about US$380 million.
Air Zimbabwe was placed under reconstruction on October 5, 2018, under the Reconstruction of State-Indebted Insolvent Companies Act.