ZIMBABWE last week celebrated the return of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines after a 13-year absence, but experts are cautious, saying the poor domestic air services would seriously affect the distribution of tourists to resort sites.
KLM, one of the world's oldest airlines, resumes flights into Zimbabwe on October 29 with three flights a week, giving Zimbabwe access to its major tourist source market, Europe.
The airline said it was lured by the country's mix of business and leisure potential. Erik Varwijk, KLM managing director and executive vice-president of Air France KLM International & The Netherlands, said what distinguished it from others was "excellent network, good connection from Europe with our two hubs, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and Paris Charles de Gaulle and our valued partnership with Kenya Airways".
The airline, he said, would focus on the three flights and an increase in the frequency was dependent on performance.
"We aim to propose a smooth flight schedule and concentrate for the moment on these three flights a week," he said.
Tourism experts said the coming in of airlines meant improved access to the country ahead of the UN World Tourism Organisation General Assembly to be co-hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia in Victoria Falls next year.
However, they said the domestic services had to be sorted out as a matter of urgency.
Givemore Chidzidzi, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) chief operating officer, said KLM was a leading airline with routes in Europe and hoped the tourists would be distributed to Zimbabwe.
"That augurs well with the packaging of a destination. Tour operators will be able to make flexible packages into Zimbabwe," Chidzidzi said.
Despite the improved access of the country as a destination, a hurdle remains on how the tourists would be distributed to various attractions as Air Zimbabwe is tottering on the brink of collapse.
This has made it difficult for tourists to visit sites.
However, Chidzidzi was optimistic the domestic service would be sorted out with the coming in of other players. He said there were luxury coaches that were on the roads which could help in transporting the tourists.
The operators have to make their services tourist-oriented, Chidzidzi said. "Those kinds of services will fill the gap." Shingi Munyeza, African Sun chief executive officer, told Standardbusiness on Thursday that KLM's flights into Zimbabwe meant the country had access to the major tourism market, Europe, but the challenge was to work on local transfers.
"The next challenge is to make local transfers and connectivity more reliable and predictable by addressing the challenges at Air Zimbabwe and introducing private carriers," Munyeza said.
A number of players have announced plans to set-up domestic carriers. But despite the announcements, nothing has moved along that front, amid allegations the ministry of Transport does not want the players to fly the same route as Air Zimbabwe.
Air Namibia resumed flights to Zimbabwe in May after a 13-year absence.
Projections by Treasury showed that tourism receipts were set to reach US$736 million this year with the bulk of tourists that are big spenders coming from European and American markets.
Last year receipts were US$662 million.
'Caaz ready to license airline operators'
Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (Caaz) general manager, David Chawota, said the authority was encouraging domestic airlines and stood ready to license private operators as long as they were serious.
The coming of KLM comes after months of lobbying by the authorities to woo reputable airlines as part of measures put in place to make the destination accessible.
"We have been battling to regain all the airlines and we believe the wider the linkages, the better," Chawota said.
The coming on board of KLM is another vote of confidence in Zimbabwe as a destination months after Emirates commenced flight to Zimbabwe. Emirates introduced five flights per week into Zimbabwe in February and would fly daily in October.