More than a water cannon salute

One of the world’s leading airlines, Qatar Airways, announced on Monday that it would begin three weekly flights to Lusaka and Harare beginning on August 6.

The flights will be on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Zimbabwe has been courting Qatar Airways since the days of the inclusive government that ran from 2009 to 2013.

It’s a “festive season” for destination Zimbabwe as it toasts to the pending arrivals of airlines which boosts destination marketing initiatives.

Last week, Lufthansa’s new long-haul leisure airline, Eurowings Discover, announced that it would begin flights between Frankfurt and Victoria Falls in March.

Two weeks ago, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a private sector arm of the World Bank said it would help Zimbabwe and the private sector to attract more airlines and flights to Victoria Falls.

The support is part of a broader, multi-year tourism programme between IFC and Zimbabwe—the Zimbabwe Destination Development Programme (ZDDP)—designed to revitalise and increase the competitiveness of the country’s tourism industry.

The donor-financed ZDDP is sponsored by Zimbabwe’s ministries of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry and that of Transport and Infrastructural Development, IFC, and the Government of Japan.

Accessibility is one of the 4As of destination marketing alongside attraction, amenities and ancillary services.

Zimbabwe has the best attractions in the world which it was struggling to market due to accessibility issues.

However, there are some housekeeping issues Zimbabwe has to address to capitalise on the interest by global airlines.

Foreign airlines are owed over US$100m which they are failing to remit due to the prevailing foreign currency constraints. While payments are being made to reduce the legacy debt, airlines say the debt poses a threat at attempts to lure more carriers.

They are of the view that regular payments will, at least, give confidence to airlines and underlines the government’s seriousness in extinguishing the legacy debt. Regular payment is the way to go to paying as and when the funds are available.

Tourism is regarded as a low hanging fruit and provides the quickest turnaround ahead of other sectors such as mining and agriculture, for example.  The sector has been badly affected by the Covid-19 which had restricted travel due to global lockdowns.

The reopening of the economies is expected to provide relief to the billion-dollar industry.

But the sector is the first to wilt when the “politics” go wrong in a destination. This behoves authorities to refrain from policy inconsistencies which threaten the industry. For the banking sector, they need to fine-tune payment systems to the extent that tourists will be able to transact. The increase in arrivals does not give tourism players carte blanche to put outrageous prices. Zimbabwe competes with other destinations.

As senior government and tourism officials troop to the Robert Mugabe International Airport to welcome Qatar Airways on August 6, they should be mindful that it is more than the water cannon salute, camera clicks and a ribbon cutting exercise.

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