BY FIDELITY MHLANGA
QATAR Airways is landing in Zimbabwe today on its inaugural flight to Harare, bringing hope to the local tourism sector which has been battered by the global pandemic, COVID-19.
A new route connecting Lusaka and Harare will be operated with a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe (TBCZ) president Wengayi Nhau expressed optimism that the jetting in of Qatar Airways will act as catalyst to revive the tourism sector in the country.
“As you may be aware tourism has key enablers. Air transport is a key enabler of tourism. For any destination to be competitive and sustainable, it needs air connectivity. The more air players come, the more the competitiveness of the destination from a pricing perspective to a product quality perspective,” Nhau said.
“The coming of Qatar Airways on top of Emirates Airways means we now have global airlines that carry a big brand world over with quality air service.
“This is an endorsement of the destination and brand Zimbabwe. This means job creation, more revenue through consumption of fuel, catering and accommodation services. The benefits will cascade to the whole value chain.”
He said the effects of riots in South Africa were felt in the Zimbabwean tourism industry because flight disruptions were experienced as clients were connecting through that country, but with Qatar Airways coming directly to Zimbabwe, such disruptions will be minimised.
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“This is an international brand that has direct connection right across the globe. By having Qatar Airways coming into Zimbabwe, it means instantly Zimbabwe is now connected with the world as people can now travel from their home destinations to Zimbabwe,” Nhau said
Last week in his mid-term fiscal budget review statement, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube projected a 6,4% tourism growth this year underpinned by destination branding and country image transformation, domestic, regional and international tourism promotion, establishment of a tourism revolving fund, opening up of skies, establishment of the tourism satellite account and tax dispensations on tourism capital goods.
The growth projections are despite that international travel into the country during the first half had been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This, coupled with the general fear on the global tourism market, and general travel restrictions in some source markets such as the United Kingdom, among others, contributed to undermine international tourism performance in the country.
In view of the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on overseas arrivals, the hospitality industry has been relying more on domestic tourism in order to remain afloat.
The national average hotel bed occupancy fell by 8 percentage points from 22% in 2020 to 14% in 2021. All regions experienced declines except for Nyanga.
But authorities feel that the global vaccination programme currently underway is expected to mitigate against loss of lives and any further economic disruptions.
“The launch of Harare and Lusaka supports increased demand for trade between Zimbabwe and Zambia and destinations on the Qatar Airways network such as London, Frankfurt and New York and from multiple points in China,” the airline said when announcing the new routes in June.
The International Finance Corporation, a unit of the World Bank in June said it would provide technical and advisory support towards the Zimbabwe government’s plan to attract more airlines and flights to Victoria Falls and help the tourism hub recover from the impact of COVID-19.
Eurowings, a unit of Lufthansa, announced on June 16 that it would be adding Victoria Falls to its routes starting June next year.
Arrivals plummeted 90% last year as governments closed air spaces and grounded airlines to contain the deadly contagion. According to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, the industry lost US$1 billion potential tourism revenue last year, throwing several operators out of business.