The Zimbabwean government hopes to boost tourism to the Southern African country following the completion of $150m upgrade to Victoria Falls International Airport. The enhancements allow wide-body aircraft, such as Boeing 777 and Airbus A340 planes, to land.
The development of the airport – which included increasing the length of the runway from 2.2km to 4km, building a new terminal complete with a new control tower and improving the surrounding road network – was funded by the China Export-Import Bank. The upgrade now means the airport can handle 1.2m passengers annually, up from 500,000 passengers per year.
Some African airlines, including South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and Rwanda’s RwandAir, have committed to routes to the improved airport. Meanwhile, non-African airlines, such as Dubai-headquartered Emirates and the UK’s British Airways, also have flights travelling to the new-look Victoria Falls airport.
The Tourism will grow in Zimbabwe because of the new Victoria Falls airport and the commitment of international airlines is an indication that the tourism sector will recover, Walter Mzembi, Zimbabwe’s minister for tourism, told the BBC.
“In the past, we’ve suffered from accessibility [to Victoria Falls] problems where people are at sixes and sevens about how to reach a natural wonder like Victoria Falls,” he said. “Now they are able to land directly.”
Zimbabwe’s tourism sector has stagnated since the preceding events that led to the violent fast-track land reform in 2000, which saw 4,000 white farmers forced from their land which was given to around one million black farmers. Zimbabwe’s economy has since shrunk over the last two decades, falling from 10.4% growth in 1996 to 0.5% in 2015.
Tourists to the Southern African country have been put off by regular police roadblocks where drivers are forced to pay fines of up to $20 for a series of trivial infringements. The airport would allow tourists to bypass the roadblocks and land directly near one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
The importance of the new airport bringing in visitors to Victoria Falls avoid travelling to Zimbabwe and the tourists travel to Zambia instead, denying Zimbabwe’s economy much-needed foreign currency. The issue was recently highlighted when American actor Will Smith’s bungee jump video off the Victoria Falls bridge went viral last week.
Media reports suggested that the Men in Black actor had travelled to Zimbabwe, however, Zambians on social media were quick to point out that Smith had actually travelled to their country.
Sensitive rivalry. Zimbabweans are upset that while visiting Victoria Falls this week Hollywood star Will Smith spent night on Zambia side. pic.twitter.com/W2q8vJP063
— James Hall (@hallaboutafrica) March 11, 2017