Walter Muchinguri and Kudakwashe Mhundwa —
The tourism sector recorded a 6 percent jump in occupancy in the first quarter of the year partly due to a boost in arrivals into the resort town Victoria Falls. Zimbabwe Tourism Authority chief executive Karikoga Kaseke said occupancy levels rose to 58 percent in the first quarter from 48 percent to the close of last year.
“Last year our occupancy levels were at 48 percent which means that we lost 52 percent but I am happy to say that the ratios have increased partly due to the arrival of new airlines in Victoria Falls,” he said.
Victoria Falls has witnessed increased arrivals since January as some airlines have established direct routes into Victoria Falls, attracted by the $150 million upgrade of the Victoria Falls airport, which has been nicknamed the game changer.
South African Airways was the first to break the ice when it introduced its new Airbus A330-200 aircraft with a capacity of 222 passengers, 36 business class and 186 economy class on the Johannesburg-Victoria Falls route on March 1.
This was followed by Ethiopian Airlines’ launch of its inaugural direct flight into the resort town of Victoria Falls from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on March 26. The airline is using a Boeing 737-800 with 16 seats in business class and 119 in economy class. Kenya Airways also launched a direct flight between Nairobi and Victoria Falls via Cape Town using an Embraer E190, with a configuration of 12 business class seats and 84 economy class seats, at the beginning of this month while Airlink will launch flights between Cape Town and Victoria Falls on July 2.
Dr Kaseke said the arrival of the new airlines should ignite interest in other airlines to introduce flights into the resort town, while predicting that the new airlines which are currently doing a limited number of flights per week will be flying daily into the Victoria Falls come year-end. He added that it was now up to the tourism sector to ensure that they are geared for the increase in arrivals.
“The arrival of these airlines increases seat capacity on this route and this will result in increased demand for rooms.
“As an industry the ball is firmly in our court we need to implement robust strategies to ensure that our visitors are well catered for,” he said.
He commended the Department of Immigration for downgrading 50 countries from category C to category B allowing nationals from those countries to apply for visas at the point of entry.
Tour operators in the resort town are already gearing up for increased numbers by increasing the number of vehicles now stationed within the airport’s parking lot.
“We have had to scale-up operations as you can see there are considerably more vehicles here than before, business has picked up.
“As we speak tour operators are putting in orders for new vehicles in order to ensure customer satisfaction,” said one operator who declined to be named.
Rainbow Tourism Group chief executive Mr Tendai Madziwanyika last week indicated that as a group they were already gearing for growth in Victoria Falls, which would be implemented under various strategies that they were looking at.
“The first is that we want to organically grow the business. We do not need to look outward but inward for growth because for instance right now A’Zambezi is full. A’Zambezi has 87 rooms, we can increase that with the space we have. Victoria Falls Rainbow has 88 rooms we can double the rooms. We are seeing a natural expansion, natural growth model.
“The business is functioning and we are failing to accommodate everyone so there is a natural case for expansion,” he said.
The tourism sector is one of the quick wins in terms of economic turnaround. In the last 24 months the ZTA has registered 28 new restaurants, 17 new guesthouses and 28 incentive travel organisers.
Last year it generated $819 million in revenue as tourist arrivals rose 5 percent to 2 167 686 from 2 056 588 in the prior year. The sector contributes 10,9 percent contribution to the country`s GDP.