BY FREEMAN MAKOPA
THE Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe (TBCZ) struck an optimistic tone on Friday, predicting a quicker recovery as the region’s biggest airline returned to service last Thursday, following a frustrating 18 months.
TBCZ president, Wengayi Nhau told Standardbusiness that by choosing Harare among its first destinations after emerging from bankruptcy proceedings and extensive restructuring, South African Airways (SAA) had given Zimbabwe the big endorsement that it requires to bolster the campaign to recapture lost markets.
SAA kicked off with flights into a few carefully selected destinations, including the Johannesburg-Cape Town, Johannesburg -Accra, Johannesburg-Kinshasa, Johannesburg-Lusaka and Johannesburg-Maputo frequencies.
Earlier, SAA had indicated that it was seeing higher demand on a string of routes to cities elsewhere on the continent due to lack of competition.
Nhau told said the huge vote of confidence on Zimbabwe began last month, when Qatar Airways introduced three weekly flights between Harare from Doha.
He said the route was turning out to be another vital connection, which could help Zimbabwe tap into the rich Middle Eastern market.
“On the 23rd of September SAA, the biggest airline by route network in Africa, will be coming back on the market,” he said.
“SAA was under reconstruction.
“They have gone through a rigorous restructuring exercise.
“We know that they are stronger and they were very careful in the selection of routes that they will service. But amongst these few African capitals is Harare.
“This is an endorsement of Zimbabwe as a destination.
“More airlines are willing to fly into the country.
“It is a matter of time before Zambian Airways returns.
“Zambian Airways announced that it is coming back.
“I have worked for Zambian Airways before and I know they will have Harare as their first point of call.
“This is now time to embrace all this development.
“We must be focused as an industry.
“I keep emphasising on airlines because once the airline sector is properly functional, the rest of the things will fall into place,” added Nhau.
He said following Covid – 19 induced hard lockdowns most of last year, the tourism sector had suffered some of its worst knocks in years.
According to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, arrivals plummeted by 90% last year, with over US$1 billion in potential revenue wiped out.
Nhau said there had been signs of stronger recovery since October last year, when government briefly reopened the sector before rolling out another lockdown in January.
Two weeks ago, President Emmerson Mnangagwa reviewed the lockdown to Level 2, from Level 4, allowing improved intercity travel.
“We are starting to witness recovery through the return of flights,” Nhau said.
“On the 6th of August we witnessed the arrival of Qatar Airways, which will be servicing the Doha-Harare route.
“We have also seen the reintroduction of British Airways daily service into Harare and Victoria Falls (from Johannesburg).
“We have seen increased frequencies by Fastjet and on the 1st of September we witnessed Air Zimbabwe reintroducing flights three times a week into Johannesburg (from Harare) and more flights are on the cards.”
He said as the industry returned to operations, Sadc must work towards a seamless network of its destinations through air connection.
“I would want to see every capital within Sadc linked by daily flights,” Nhau said.
“South African Airlink is already doing this. Why can’t we have our own Fastjet and Air Zimbabwe flying from Harare to Tete in Mozambique, Harare to Lilongwe (Malawi) and to Nairobi (Kenya), to Tanzania?
“We used to have 45 airlines flying into Zimbabwe and it became a vibrant business and leisure hub.
“When the airlines left, demand for room accommodation decreased.
“With travel shifting to South Africa, it means we have exported jobs to South Africa.
“Zimbabwe has been reduced to an extension of a destination, from being the biggest destination in the region,” Nhau said.