The challenges of some countries in Africa to establish themselves as major tourism destinations, appear to be harder than those of others, and for a variety of reasons.
Anti-travel advisories, embargos, sleeping bureaucrats, failed marketing strategies, poor legislation and regulations, high taxes on tourism services, retrogressive visa regimes and connectivity through major airlines are some of those nagging issues which need to be overcome to accomplish success in the face of increasing competition among African safari and beach destinations.
Today, I am taking a hard look at landlocked Zimbabwe, a destination visited twice over the past year, a destination which both times impressed me and yet a destination where the fallout of a near-perfect storm of circumstances has sharply reduced arrival numbers and given stakeholders sleepless nights.
Having met key staff of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority several times during the past years, both in Zimbabwe and abroad, I can vouch for them that they are not falling into the category of sleeping bureaucrats. Neither is the problem rooted in a lack of visionary tourism policies, legislation, or regulations as Minister Dr. Eng. Walter Mzembi, the longest-serving tourism Minister in Africa, has clearly played his role very well, including persuading his cabinet colleagues that the Value Added Tax on tourist accommodation has got to go, that the dozens of police checks on public roads must be reduced to a more sensible regime, and that grassroots tourism businesses, especially women cooperatives, must be given extra support. In addition, Dr. Walter also recorded success with the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to make reduced interest loans available to have hotels and resorts renovated, modernized, and expanded before a second phase will see that boost extended to new properties.
That said, we all know about the issue of anti-travel advisories and the negative impact of embargoes for leading politicians and the fallout this caused the tourism industry. The falling value of the South African rand, now the accepted foreign currency in Zimbabwe, has, according to Minister Mzembi, done added damage by impacting on visitor numbers from South Africa to Zimbabwe, which thankfully have started climbing again after reaching low points two years ago.
Enter aviation, and I want to concentrate on that part of the equation.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe, despite a revival of national airline Air Zimbabwe, continues to offer a very liberal regime vis-a-vis traffic and landing rights, including fifth freedom rights.
The demise of Fly Africa has been more than made good through newcomer Fastjet, which, or so it is understood, may very soon commence a second domestic route from Harare to Bulawayo, long anticipated and no doubt warmly welcomed by the tourism industry.
It is in fact this airline which connects Dar es Salaam with Harare via Lusaka, four times a week, flies double daily to Johannesburg, and also serves Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe’s best-known tourism attraction.
Air Zimbabwe was mentioned already, which, having resumed flights to Johannesburg, recently added Dar es Salaam and is keenly eying a return to London Gatwick which, as the then only nonstop service, will give a major boost to tourism and trade.
Before you ask, “Now what is this all about?” let me connect the remaining dots of what the headline suggests.
It is airlines like Kenya Airways, flying three times a day between Nairobi and Harare, and of course big league carrier Emirates, flying daily between Dubai and Harare via Lusaka, I have in mind to bring onboard for the promotion of tourism, working hand in hand with the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority and with the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe, to take a fresh look and employ some out-of-the-box thinking of how to bring more tourists to Zimbabwe, either as a stand-alone destination or in conjunction with other African countries.
Ideal combinations could be a linkage between East Africa and Zimbabwe or between Zambia and Zimbabwe, but the cost of tickets is often prohibitive when it comes to adding more stopovers or next to impossible when it comes to open jaw travel segments between arrival and departure point.
The question must be asked, can Civil Aviation Authorities grant fifth freedom rights for instance for passengers on Kenya Airways and Emirates, who disembark first in Lusaka to do a tour of Zambia before then flying on to Harare to commence a tour of Zimbabwe? It would be nice, no doubt, to have fifth freedom rights per se on such flights which touch down en route before reaching the final destination, but if not possible, at least passengers booked on this flight should be permitted to use their airline of choice for the connecting leg of their journey.
Do Civil Aviation Authorities have the power to mandate a foreign airline to offer open jaw tickets without penalty on the airfares, like letting passengers on a long-haul flight from Dubai disembark in Lusaka? Does a tour of Zambia that crosses into Zimbabwe over the Victoria Falls bridge between Livingstone and the town of Victoria Falls, end its journey in Harare from where tourists can then start their journey home?
Countries as beautiful and attractive to visit like Zimbabwe, and Zambia for that matter, but disadvantaged through a number of factors, should start thinking out of the box and see how best to bring airlines onboard, while at home, Civil Aviation and the national tourism offices need to sit down and discuss such new ideas with the aim being to make travel to their country and between their countries easier and yet keep the cost down.
Would Kenya Airways or Fastjet not be happy to see added passenger numbers on their flights which connect a range of destinations in Southern Africa with Nairobi, Lilongwe, Lusaka, Harare, Livingstone, and Cape Town – just some of the examples of two-stop routes operated? If such an airline were to be given the right for open jaw tickets without burdening the passengers with a surcharge, could that not open doors which were hitherto closed and which prevented such multi-country visits to Africa’s most famous safari destinations?
Fodder for thought no doubt, putting the ball firmly in the court of tourism agencies, authorities, and civil aviation bodies, to formulate a new strategy before inviting suitable airlines to sit down with them and see how more business can be generated for all parties to their mutual benefit.
Of course, the same thoughts can be applied to multi-country visits in Eastern Africa including side trips to the Indian Ocean islands or in fact island hopping between the Vanilla Islands.