Prosper Ndlovu, Business Editor
VICE President Dr Constantino Chiwenga has said the national flag carrier, Air Zimbabwe, needs to up its game by quickly transforming its operations to be able to compete with international players and improve destination accessibility.
He said this in Bulawayo last week while addressing delegates who attended the just-ended 11th edition of the Sanganai/Hlanganani World Tourism Expo.
The four-day event received overwhelming response that saw 325 companies and 150 buyers from 23 countries participating.
With the country registering growth in arrivals for both leisure and business-related tourism under the new dispensation, the troubled airline has been overtaken by private and foreign players even in servicing of local routes. Its limited fleet, incessant breakdowns and lack of capital have recently closed avenues for its viability in the face of tight competition.
“As a nation we are consciously aware that we can tremendously improve destination accessibility if we transform our own national airline, Air Zimbabwe, into an efficient, vibrant entity that can compete with any other carrier,” said Dr Chiwenga.
Air Zimbabwe is battling a myriad of challenges dramatised by a high legacy debt of about $334 million, which has made it unattractive to potential strategic partners. Government had said it will merge the boards of Air Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Airways to ensure the two State-owned aviation firms collaborate in a bid to ensure profitability. Zimbabwe Airways was established by Government in response to the Air Zimbabwe debt.
As the country works towards the inevitable attraction of more airlines from all over the world, Air Zimbabwe should be the major beneficiary and not the loser. The Vice President said adoption of the “open skies” policy was progressive if the aviation sector was to play its catalytic role in the development of the country’s economy.
“On the domestic front we have opened up the airspace for other players and we have seen new airlines now competing on our domestic routes. Therefore, the issue is not only to attract competition but to make ourselves ready for that competition,” he said.
“Indeed with open skies, complemented by open borders, Zimbabwe’s tourism sector will be poised for growth and development for the benefit of the economy.”
Dr Chiwenga, who took time to engage with exhibitors and buyers during his tour, said Government was committed to supporting the tourism sector through the establishment of the Tourism Recovery Fund.
The facility is set to boost the budgetary allocations for destination promotion and wildlife conservation programmes. It will also help tourism operators to re-equip, retool and renovate existing facilities whilst encouraging establishment of new investments.
Since January this year, Zimbabwe has recorded tremendous growth in tourist arrivals, according to the ZTA, which is in keeping with the general global tourism resurgence.