Zimbabwe has approached South Africa Airways (SAA) to be the official carrier during the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly (UNWTO) set for next year, as the troubled national airliner, Air Zimbabwe, remains grounded.
The official carrier is set to be announced before January next year. Zimbabwe will jointly host the event with Zambia.
Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) chief executive officer Karikoga Kaseke told journalists in Harare on Tuesday that there were little chances that a fully operational Air Zimbabwe would get the nod to carry delegates during the global tourism event.
“Even if Air Zimbabwe was flying, what we are looking at is access to destinations,” Kaseke said.
“We look at an airline that has got the most connection from all destinations.
“So South African Airways is well connected because it flies to far many more destinations than any other airlines.
“So it’s not about Air Zimbabwe’s woes that we are talking about here.
“Even if Air Zimbabwe was not having any problems, I think the first reasonable decision would be to say South African Airways is the preferred airline.”
He said given that SAA was a member of the Star Alliance, the world’s largest global airlines club headquartered in Frankfurt, the airline could easily connect passengers throughout the world.
“It’s a professional and technical decision that we are taking. We look at the connectivity to Victoria Falls and there is nothing unpatriotic about it. We are just being practical and realistic,” Kaseke said.
The ZTA boss said the development was dependent on SAA agreeing to the pact.
“If they do not agree, we will go to Kenya Airways. If it does not agree, we go to Ethiopian Airways,” he said.
He said the UNWTO organising committee had since communicated with SAA’s local office on the matter.
Kaseke has in the past accused the Transport ministry of “protecting” Air Zimbabwe from competition, adding the airline’s problems were undermining the recovery of the sector.
He said the tourism sector was not happy with operations of the airline ahead of the global event.
According to the Tourism and Trends Statistic report for 2011 South Africa Airways, Kenyan and Ethiopian Airways had taken advantage of challenges besetting the local airline to increase their market share.
SAA last year increased its market to 39% from 28% in 2010 while that of Kenya Airways rose to 9% from 8%.
The market share for Air Zimbabwe dropped to 9% last year from 22% the prior year.
SAA has since added an airbus to the Harare-Johannesburg route. The airline is currently servicing 18 flights per week to Zimbabwe.