Victoria Falls — REGIONAL airlines have taken over beleaguered Air Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls clientele.
With Air Zimbabwe having indefinitely suspended servicing its domestic, regional and international routes citing "viability" challenges, its competitors have stepped in to fill the void.
According to sources at the Victoria Falls International Airport, South African Airways and British Airways (Comair) are now plying the Johannesburg-Victoria Falls route daily. Air Namibia lands at Victoria Falls Airport about three times a week.
Some visitors to the resort town are also using One Time Airways, Zambia Airways and other airlines from South Africa that land just across in Livingstone town.
As if that competition is not enough, there are about three airlines that have proposed to fly into Victoria Falls in a development that could see increased traffic and revenue for the tourism sector.
Recently, Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe chief executive officer, Mr David Chawota told Chronicle that three new long haul airlines were courting the authority to fly direct into the resort town. He also said Fly Emirates had already indicated that it would start flying into the country next month landing at Harare International Airport.
Commenting on the matter, the Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Engineer Walter Mzembi, said it would have been wonderful to see the national airline being one of the airlines competing on the different routes.
"We need a paradigm shift here; we must see the opening up of domestic air routes and liberalisation of the airspace. Victoria Falls has become accessible to foreigners as foreign airlines continue landing here yet we say charity should begin at home," he said.
According to tour and adventure operators the landing of more airlines either in Livingstone or Victoria Falls should be commended as it was a clear sign that the tourism sector was now out of the doldrums after years of continued demonisation of the country by its detractors who included the Western media.
"For the tourism sector, it is a pity that our national pride has been compromised by Air Zimbabwe's failure to play a leading role. We are, however, happy that our clients coming in either through Livingstone or direct into Victoria Falls, are being serviced by other airlines.
"We commend the Government for considering other airlines that have expressed interest in landing in the country. We need to open the airspace and allow more players because at the end of the day it is the number of visitors that counts," said an operator on condition of anonymity.
Other operators who spoke on condition of anonymity said it was true that some travel agents were omitting Air Zimbabwe on their lists of airlines.
"It is no secret that travel agents are omitting Air Zimbabwe. This is because of its track record where travellers have grown accustomed to delays and cancellations. Right now some of the employees are on strike and as long as it is like that, no traveller in his or her right senses will choose Air Zimbabwe," said the operator.
A total of 18 international airlines have left the country in the last 10 years due to economic challenges facing the country and negative publicity.
These include Lufthansa, Qantas, Austrian Airlines, Swissair, Air India, Air France and TAP Air Portugal.
African airlines that no longer fly into Harare include Egyptair, Air Mauritius, Linhas Aereas de Mocambique, Air Namibia, Royal Swazi Airlines and Air Seychelles. Air Tanzania, Ghana Airways, Air Uganda and Air Cameroon have also pulled out.