ZIMBABWE’s premier tourist attraction, Victoria Falls is facing a massive knock on tourist arrivals as major international airlines that are key in bringing in tourists indicated they will either stop flying in or reduce frequencies into the resort town due to the continued threat of coronavirus.
The pandemic has affected most air companies and a majority of them have grounded their planes as passenger volumes decline after most governments across the world told their citizens to minimise travel and stay at home.
The resort town records an average of 200 000 tourists a year and during major holidays such as Easter, visitors to Victoria Falls are around 6 000 per day, according to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority.
The most affected will be hotels and other tourism service providers that rely on foreigners for business. South African Airways (SAA) and its sister carrier, Airlink as well as Air Namibia have suspended international and regional flights including to Victoria Falls, while Ethiopian Airlines has reduced frequency of flights into the resort town. British Airways/ComAir which had initially announced intention to stop flying into Victoria Falls last Friday, said it will now stop flying into the resort town from tomorrow.
Ethiopian Airlines reduced frequency to three times a week from everyday into Victoria Falls while Kenya Airways also announced it would stop flights into the country’s prime resort destination from yesterday.
In a statement on Friday, SAA said it suspended all international and regional flights until 31 May.
SA Express, which had daily flights to Bulawayo, also indicated on its website that it had suspended all its flights.
Fastjet, which had two flights between Johannesburg (South Africa) and Bulawayo everyday, indicated that it would now have a single flight.
The British Airways had daily flights into the country, Air Namibia had five flights per week, while South African Airlink was flying to Victoria Falls everyday except Saturdays.
“South African Airways has announced that it will immediately suspend all international operations until 31 May 2020 in response to a Government travel ban aimed at stopping the transmission of coronavirus.
“As a result of this suspension there was a drastic reduction of demand for African regional flights and therefore the suspension has resulted in the airline not being able to operate its normal network and regional flights not being commercially viable anymore.
Regional flights are also suspended due to the knock-off effect of decision to suspend international flights,” said the airline in a statement.
The suspended regional flights are to Accra in Ghana, Lusaka in Zambia, Harare and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, Windhoek in Namibia, Lagos in Nigeria and Entebhe in Uganda.
Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) Victoria Falls chapter chairman Mr Arnold Musonza said the tourism industry was hard hit by coronavirus whose death toll around the world has surpassed 10 000 people, with more than 244 000 infections.
“The industry is bleeding and we need all stakeholders to come on board to ensure survival. The hotel occupancy rate is now at 7,3 percent per day, down from around 45 to 55 percent, that is usually the case during this time of the year.
“We can not provide figures of how much business has been lost, as of now or how much we are going to lose, but it looks bad. We can only come up with how much money has been lost at a later stage,” he said.