KLM Royal Dutch Airlines will discontinue direct flights from Amsterdam to Harare in October in a major blow to efforts to grow tourist arrivals.
CHIEF BUSINESS REPORTER
In a recent notice, the airline which resumed flights to Zimbabwe in 2012 after 13 years of absence said it would stop operating to Lusaka (Zambia) and Harare (Zimbabwe) effective October 26, 2014.
“Recent optimisation in KLM’s network portfolio in East Africa led to the decision to discontinue direct services from Amsterdam to Lusaka and Harare,” it said.
Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Walter Mzembi said the decision to discontinue direct flights was a blow to grow tourist arrivals.
Currently, 16 airlines are flying into the country from a peak of 48 in 1999 and there are efforts to lure more and grow the tourism sector that has the potential of earning $5 billion annually by 2020.
“Any withdrawal is a blow to what we are seeking to do in terms luring airlines into the country,” he said.
Mzembi said executives from KLM had been to his office lobbying on the review of the cost structure which he said was inhibiting for an airline.
“In the few meetings that I had with them, they were advocating a revised cost structure meant to give them a soft landing as they inaugurate the flight,” he said.
“Our cost structure—fuel, landing fees and service fees—have a damning impact on operations.”
Mzembi said KLM told him the decision to discontinue flights was purely business and not a political decision.
Mzembi said he lobbied to Cabinet on the revision of the cost structure which culminated in a committee to look into the matter.
He said KLM has been to his office seeking “marketing collaboration between us and them particularly with inbound traffic for Europe”.
The withdrawal of direct flights could work against efforts to market Zimbabwe as a tourism destination.
KLM said connections to Europe, the United States and the rest of the world would remain in combination with KLM’s strategic partner Kenya Airways.
“Kenya Airways offer 14 weekly flights from Harare via Nairobi to your destination, with a chance to experience Kenya Airways newest equipment including the Dreamliner and KLM’s recently updated World Business Class,” the airline said.
Airlines flying to Zimbabwe have raised concern about the high-landing fees charged by the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe.
In 2012, KLM’s executive vice-president marketing Pieter Bootsma said high fees would be a major determinant on whether or not to increase direct flights to Zimbabwe.