Sky’s the limit for SAA when UN summit hits Victoria Falls

2012-11-03 11:42

Embattled national airline SAA is set to cash in on Zimbabwe’s co-hosting of the general assembly of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation next year.

The airline has been picked as the official carrier for tourists, a top Zimbabwean tourism official has indicated.

An estimated 1 500 delegates are expected to attend the summit, which Zimbabwe will co-host with Zambia.

It will be held at the resort town of Victoria Falls.

The country’s national carrier, Air Zimbabwe, is battling with debts amounting to $150 million (R1.3 billion), an aged aircraft fleet and worker revolts, and has become hugely unpopular in the country because of its poor service, making it unlikely to cope with the number of tourist arrivals.

The government is also dilly-dallying on proposals to privatise the airline amid indications that the Treasury injected $1.8 million to revive Air Zimbabwe’s operations last month.

Air Zimbabwe has indicated that it is set to resume regional and international flights on November 12, and has embarked on an intensive publicity campaign to market its imminent return to the air.

Travel agents, however, remain sceptical about making bookings for the airline as they cite its “inconsistency” and concern over whether it has met international safety requirements.

The International Air Transport Association has imposed a November deadline for the airline to meet these requirements.

Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi said Air Zimbabwe’s absence from the intracountry, regional and international routes had created a vacuum.

“There is a lot of re-equipping of the airline (needed). It has a lot of issues, but we have agreed as government that we assume the Air Zimbabwe debt so that we help clean up the balance sheet...

It would not be easy since they have been away from action for quite some time. It’s very important to have them back because we need internal distribution of tourists.”

Zimbabwe Tourism Authority boss Karikoga Kaseke confirmed SAA’s choice at a tourism fair last month: “SAA flies the most international routes. It is also a member of the Star Alliance so that makes it a good choice.”

The South African ambassador to Zimbabwe, Vusi Mavimbela, confirmed that overtures were being made to court SAA’s services for the duration of the UN general assembly.

“Zimbabwe has approached us for the use of SAA as the official flight partner for the summit. Because of the good relations we are cultivating between Zimbabwe and South Africa, securing SAA won’t be a problem,” said Mavimbela.

Zambia is set to enlist the services of its national airline, Zambian Airways, as its official carrier.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe witnessed two international airlines making a return to its airspace this week after a decade-long hiatus.

The Royal Dutch-owned airline KLM on Monday resumed flights between Harare and Amsterdam, while Mozambique’s LAM resumed flights between Harare and Maputo. Tanzania’s Precision Air is expected to begin flights later this month.

In February Emirates added Harare to its route. Air Namibia quickly followed.

Pieter Bootsma, KLM’s executive vice-president, said: “We see the tourist appeal of Zimbabwe ... but landing fees are still an issue for us. We consider them too high and in order to secure our operation going forward, we really hope the landing fees can come down. If we compare the fees with other African countries, what we have experienced in Zimbabwe is the highest.”

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