World Bank’s IFC agrees to back Zimbabwe plan to bring more flights back into Vic Falls

Zim hopes to bring more flights into Vic Falls (pic: JennySetGo)

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a unit of the World Bank, will provide technical and advisory support towards a Zimbabwe government plan to attract more airlines and flights into Victoria Falls and help the tourism hub recover from the impact of COVID-19.

Under the IFC programme, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Tourism will partner with transport consultancy firm, CPCS Transcom and Cape Town Air Access, a project of Wesgro, the Tourism, Trade and Investment Promotion Agency for South Africa’s Western Cape.

“They will help the government conduct data analysis and facilitate dialogue with airlines to recover and strengthen Victoria Falls’ position as a tourism and air transport hub for Zimbabwe and the region,” the IFC said in a statement on Monday.

The government’s targeted COVID-19 vaccination of tourism workers in Victoria Falls “is expected to put the destination in a privileged position for re-attracting airlines, tourists, and revenues”, the IFC said.

IFC will help Zimbabwe and the private sector to attract more airlines and flights to Victoria Falls, increasing access for visitors from Africa and around the world as COVID-19 travel restrictions ease.

“With the right support, Victoria Falls can become a truly competitive tourism entry point for the region. Establishing this position in the market will help drive tourism through Zimbabwe and support recovery and jobs,” said Adamou Labara, IFC’s Country Manager for Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Under construction: expansion works at RGM International Airport, harare

Long trip to recovery

Tourism was one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. Zimbabwe estimates that arrivals dropped by as much as 90% between March and October last year, while hotel occupancies fell to below 10%.

Travel restrictions and local lockdowns have combined to keep tourists away. Authorities hope increased air access into Victoria Falls will help recovery.

“The time is right to expand our network to ensure the destination can grow its position as a gateway to the country and the wider region. This is in line with our strategic thrust of developing Victoria Falls as a regional tourism hub,” said Tawanda Gusha, Acting CEO for the Airports Company of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe tourism operators say some early recovery is now visible as flights start returning.

Mack Air, a Botswana airline, launched a service connecting Zimbabwean tourist spots with Botswana’s Chobe National Park. South Africa’s Airlink and British Airways, operated by Comair, resumed flights into Victoria Falls in May.

“The situation is improving and it looks very positive especially as airlines have started coming,” according to Hwange ecologist, Mark Russell.

Global air travel is expected to bounce back only in 2023 as countries roll out Covid-19 vaccines and learn to manage the pandemic, according to the International Air Transport Association (Iata). It predicts that passenger numbers would recover to 52% of pre-COVID levels by the end of this year, reach 88% next year, and surpass pre-COVID levels by 5% in 2023.