As Zimbabwe relentlessly opens its skies and upgrades airports to ensure that more airlines are able to bring in more desired tourists and businesspeople, bilateral air service agreements between Zimbabwe and 13 other countries have been approved by Cabinet, some for airlines already flying in with more wanting to.
The agreements are now in place between Zimbabwe and Jordan, Turkey, Iran, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Ethiopia, South Africa, Qatar, Mozambique, Saudi Arabia, Rwanda, The Gambia, and Seychelles.
Besides the growing number of direct flights into Zimbabwe boosting tourism, the extra access means that more cargo can be flown in and out. Air transport is critical for sectors such as horticulture and for high-value low-volume items such as modern electronics and ICT.
Acting Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Dr Jenfan Muswere gave the details after yesterday’s Cabinet meeting.
To meet the expanding traffic and growing arrivals, Zimbabwe is heavily involved in upgrading and expanding facilities to ensure that airlines can fly in without problems and their passengers can enter and leave Zimbabwe without hassles.
The main terminal and other facilities at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport are in the process of being expanded and upgraded at the cost of US$153 million and will meet the top end of world class standards when complete.
The Victoria Falls International Airport has already been upgraded to world-class standards while the Airports Company of Zimbabwe recently said it intended to build a new US$13 million tower at Joshua Mqabuko
More direct flights as a result of the formal implementation of existing policy, with more airlines providing these flights, will continue boosting Zimbabwean tourism and establishing ever more business links.
Said Minister Muswere: “The agreements are mainly meant for the establishment and operation of air services between and beyond their territories, create and foster friendships, understanding and cooperation, as well as enhance the expansion of international air transport opportunities.
“The agreements resonate well with the Second Republic’s international engagement drive and the mantra that indeed Zimbabwe is open for business.”
Qatar Airways, Mozambique Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airways and Rwanda Air are already flying into Zimbabwe and have been expanding services and the agreements mean that others now want to join them.
President Mnangagwa’s administration has stated from the time he assumed office in late 2017 that it would pursue economic diplomacy to turn around the country’s economy for the benefit of all.
Experts have welcomed the signing of the agreements.
Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe chairman for Matabeleland North, which includes tourism capital Victoria Falls, Mr Anald Musonza, said this is the best news ever for the industry and the country’s economy.
“Air access and air uplift is what drives international travel and business and commerce,” said Mr Musonza, who is also the resort general manager for Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.
“Having all these bilateral agreements opens up our skies and allows several airlines to start flying into our country bringing with it growth in tourist arrivals at the same time allowing our country to export its products across the globe.
“Airline connections become easier and cheaper as more airlines and more new investment opportunities arise.”
Zimbabwe Tourism Authority head of corporate affairs Mr Godfrey Koti said the air services agreement would go a long way in boosting the quest of attaining President Mnangagwa’s Vision of a US$5 billion a year tourism industry.
“Access is something that is very critical to tourism. We are a destination that relies heavily on those international travellers, so it will make our work easier as we are striving to achieve the US$5 billion economy target by 2025 as the tourism sector.
“We believe that such opportunities open the doors for the sector. The news is liberating. It is exciting, especially coming from the back of the Covid-19 lockdowns. It will be a huge boost for the sector,” said Mr Koti.
Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce president Mr Mike Kamungeremu said they cannot wait for the commencement of the flights.
“This is a welcome development. It is a brilliant move for the business community. The benefits are numerous and have positive implications. If we have direct flights to many destinations that are fantastic we welcome that,” said Mr Kamungeremu.
“It was very difficult to go to some of these countries. At times you will spend 24 hours flying, so direct flights will cut the flying time to those countries, which is good for business. If you are to move anything, any equipment becomes cheaper because it’s direct flight.
“We welcome the development and we hope the negotiations will be concluded much faster so that we start accessing the direct flights.
“It may also mean a lot for our tourism because tourists from those countries can easily come to Zimbabwe. We have got the natural wonders but a lot of people were not coming because of the flight arrangements,” said Mr Kamungeremu.
The tourism sector said for their sector to thrive they rely on the availability of flights frequenting and connecting Zimbabwe with many destinations.