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Tourism bullish as flights increase

The Sunday Mail

Tapiwanashe Mangwiro

The tourism and hospitality industry is bullish on improved business prospects this year as more airlines continue to service local routes, bringing in tourists that could lift the sector, especially after two years of restricted travel owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

South African-based airline, Airlink, recently launched direct flights between Victoria Falls and Johannesburg, while Ethiopian Airlines launched the Heathrow-Bulawayo flights.

The new route by Ethiopian Airlines will allow tourists to travel directly from the UK to Bulawayo, which is a gateway to Matobo National Park and a transit point to Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls.

Bulawayo is the airlines’ third destination in Zimbabwe together with Harare and Victoria Falls.

“Now tourists will able to explore Bulawayo, with Ethiopian Airlines connecting four times a week from London-Heathrow commencing October 30, 2022 and connecting on the new additional Saturday service from Manchester Airport effective November 5, 2022,” Ethiopian Airlines said in a notice. Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) Matabeleland North Province representative Ms Tsikadzashe Mberi and Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe representative Ms Barbra Murasiranwa believe the new flights will improve air connectivity between Bulawayo, Victoria Falls and source markets.

“These flights are adding capacity considering that most of our tourists connect via Johannesburg, and the addition of Heathrow and Manchester is an added bonus. We are really excited because this is going to help connectivity in Victoria Falls, Bulawayo and into Zimbabwe generally,” said Ms Mberi.

Airports Company of Zimbabwe representative Mr Ronnie Masawi said the new connections will help drive tourist arrivals.

“We used to receive many passengers from the airlines before others moved out. These ones have come in and are very exciting. It means we are building up to where we used to be before Covid-19,” he said.

Victoria Falls hotels operated at above 80 percent capacity during the Heroes Day and Defence Forces Day holidays, underpinned by the relaxation of Covid-19 travel restrictions.

While the country is keen to welcome back foreign visitors, the sector is also increasingly angling for domestic tourists.

Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) Matabeleland chair Mr Anald Musonza told The Sunday Mail Business that the sector experienced some brisk business this year as there were no travel restrictions.

“More hotels were actually trading around 80 percent during the Heroes holidays weekend.

“This business was a mixture of both local and international travel lots,” he said.

“The relaxation of the Covid-19 travel restrictions helped spur some demand for holidaying.”

The country continues to open its air space to ensure a competitive service for travellers.

“With improved air access into the Victoria Falls International Airport (VFA) from major source markets, it also helps boost international arrivals,” said Mr Musonza.

Most hotels, he added, are running specials to regain their market share.

He now expects a “great recovery” in the sector this year.

“We have strong forward bookings.”

Meikles Limited, a listed diversified group, in its latest quarterly update to June 30, 2022, said hotel room occupancy for the hospitality segment increased from 11 percent to 35 percent as guests responded to the relaxation of travel restrictions.

Of the group’s total guests, foreigners made up 90 percent of the mix.

“A growth of 24 percentage points in comparison to the same period in the previous year benefitting from the continued easing of both local and international Covid-19 restrictions.

“The average room rate and revenue per available room grew by 36 percent and 327 percent in US$ terms, respectively. The guests’ mix for the period was 90 percent foreign and 10 percent local,” said the group.

Tourism is vital to the economy.

Under the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy, Government targets to increase tourist arrivals to over 5,5 million by 2023, as well as grow tourism receipts from US$1 billion in 2017 to US$3,5 billion by 2023.

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