The formal inauguration last week of the new modernised Victoria Falls International Airport marks an important milestone in the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe’s strategy to bring new direct international connections into the town in northern Zimbabwe, a popular gateway to the spectacular Victoria Falls tourist attraction.
The completion of the project, part of a $150 million investment by the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) to upgrade facilities at the airport and boost passenger capacity from just 500,000 to around two million, is set to deliver its first new operator.
According to industry sources, it is understood that Ethiopian Airlines will introduce a new link to Victoria Falls from Addis Ababa in the first half of next year, bringing new connectivity options into the Zimbabwe market.
Although neither the airline nor airport will confirm the report, it is understood that the flights could be up and running as early as April 2017. It would add to the current flights of Comair (under the British Airways brand) and South African Airways which provide connectivity via Johannesburg, South Africa and Air Zimbabwe and fastjet Zimbabwe which offer links to international connections via domestic flights into Harare.
"We are speaking to a number of respected carriers to deliver new international connectivity into Victoria Falls. Our investment in the new Victoria Falls International Airport has created a modern facility that is beginning to resonate with the world's airlines. We are confident that new operators will soon bring additional non-stop connectivity into the airport," said a spokesman for CAAZ.
The airport development project, funded through a loan from China Export Import Bank, has included a new international terminal, a new 4,000 metre and supported functionality and the renovation of the existing terminal building into a modern domestic facility. It was formally inaugurated on November 18, 2016 by Cde Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe.
The modernisation will support ambitions to grow the share of the MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and events) market as well as to boost tourism arrivals to the famous Victoria Falls and associated adventure activities and nearby wildlife parks which have been attracting visitors for many years.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe is hopeful the facility will open airlines eyes to the massive potential the country offers for new air services and help it return visitor numbers to the high levels recorded in the mid-1990s.
Zimbabwe is working hard to attract visitors back to the country surpassing the two million arrivals figure once again in 2015. Tourism has experienced rapid growth since the country gained independence in 1980. During the 1990s, arrivals grew at an average growth rate of 17.5% whilst tourism receipts increased at an average annual growth rate of 18% in US$ terms. However, the prevailing economic, social and political environment has seen the sector experiencing the worst performance since independence resulting in falling arrivals and receipts.
The arrivals have picked up again since the formation of the inclusive Government in 2009 and with more states lifting travel warnings to Zimbabwe and more aggressive promotion the country expects numbers to grow again this year (arrivals were up 16 percent in Q1 2106 versus Q1 2015) and grow to record levels in the latter years of the decade - this includes a target to exceed 3.5 million arrivals by 2020. This improved performance has seen tourism receipts grow from around $500 million in 2009 to over $800 million for the past three successive years.