By Alois Vinga
Zimbabwe is taking too long to offset the $136 million debt owed to international airlines in a development that could undermine revival of the country’s tourism sector.
The debt came up on the sidelines of a Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe (TBCZ) media briefing which was held in the capital recently.
South African Airways regional manager Winnie Muchanyuka said Harare was taking too long to settle the debt.
“There has been slow progress in settling the debt and, as a result, most airlines are unable to repatriate the money we have collected for ticket sales locally to head offices,” she said.
Failure to pay the debt has been blamed on the shortage of foreign currency which Zimbabwe has struggled with for years.
TBCZ president Tich Hwingwiri said the debt is stumbling growth in the tourism sector.
He pointed out that authorities had been engaged repeatedly over the matter and emphasised that the sector could not thrive without the support of international airlines.
“The airlines servicing Zimbabwe are the lifeline of our tourism and we must do all we can to ensure the airlines are satisfied in their dealings with Zimbabwe financially and in day-to-day business,” he said.
Last month through the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) committed to making monthly payments of $4 million towards reducing the debt.
This followed intense lobbying by the industry with the support of tourism minister Prisca Mupfumira.