By Lovemore Ranga Mataire
HARARE- TOURISM players in Zimbabwe are ecstatic following the completion of the Victoria Falls International Airport, which is set to usher in a new era of tourism in the region and beyond.
The airport, which was set to be commissioned by President Mugabe on November 18, was built at a total cost of US$150 million and has a capacity to handle 1.5 million passengers per annum surpassing the previous volumes by a large margin. It is also capable of landing some of the world’s largest aircraft without any hassles.
Ross Kennedy, the chief executive officer of Africa Albida Tourism (AAT), a leading hospitality group, said the positive impact of the airport will be very significant on tourist arrivals.
“The socio-economic benefits will be widespread, as increased and new access drives the tourism sector’s growth with arrivals from additional source markets,” said Kennedy.
He said there was heightened interest in the new Victoria Falls International Airport at the recent World Travel Market held in London.
He said he met tour operators, media and airlines at the trade show, who expressed interest in the opening of the new Victoria Falls International Airport.
“Zimbabwe remains a ‘hot destination’ on the schedules of many tour operators across the globe,” Kennedy said.
Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe Publication Relations and Communications Manager, Annajulia Hungwe, said the new airport could accommodate over three times as many passengers, and was built with a provision for expansion to accommodate rising tourist numbers if necessary.
The old airport also underwent some rehabilitation and will now become a domestic terminal.
Some of the features of the new international airport include a 4km runway, a world standard control tower, said to be one of the most advanced in Africa, and a fire station fully equipped to respond to fire or any medical emergencies.
Other facilities include 14 check-in counters, nine boarding gates, three baggage carousels, a dozen shops, two restaurants, 28 aircraft bays and parking facilities for 400 vehicles.
The domestic terminal features six check-in counters, two passenger security screening facilities, one restaurant and three coffee shops, eight other shops and a business class lounge.
The Victoria Falls International Airport’s construction was made possible by a US$150 million Exim Bank of China loan and constructed by China Jiangsu International Group. However, the architectural design was done by a local company.
The airport operates 12 hours per day and plans are underway to bring banking facilities that are only found in Victoria Falls town. The airport boasts of shuttle services to hotels and other places in town.
Some of the airlines flying to Victoria Falls include Air Namibia, South African Airways, Air Zimbabwe, British Airways and Qatar Airways.