KLM pull out hits Zim tourism: Kaseke

HARARE - KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM)’s suspension of Zimbabwe flights will deal a heavy blow to the country’s tourism sector revival efforts, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) has said.

This comes as KLM on Wednesday said it would discontinue its flights to Harare and Lusaka, two years after resuming the service.

The Dutch airline is one of the 16 airlines currently landing at Harare International Airport and its withdrawal, from October 26, comes at a time tourism industry authorities are pushing government to allow more airlines to fly into the country.

ZTA chief executive Karikoga Kaseke said the KLM’s departure from Zimbabwean skies was “deeply regrettable and the tourism sector will be the major casualty of this under-development move especially as we had started making inroad into the Dutch market”.

He noted that the tourism sector was fully-cognisant of the fact that foreign carriers fly to destinations for as long as they see profitability.

“It is understandable that KLM might not have seen profitability in this route although we are not privy to their accounting books and projection analysis,” said Kaseke.

“It should be understood that when an airline develops a new route, they give it a period when they accept losses and that period can range from between six months and a year or beyond.

“This move by KLM, presumably, could be a reflection of general challenges hinging on the viability of the route among other factors,” he said.

KLM, which returned to Harare in 2012, 13 years after it had stopped plying the route at the height of country’s fallout with western countries over political developments in the country, said links to Harare would be through its partner Kenya Airways.

Kaseke said government must prioritise the revival of the national airline, Air Zimbabwe, as part of efforts to grow the tourism sector by attracting European tourists.

“The situation with many foreign airlines is absolutely different from 100 percent state-owned national carriers in our case,” he said adding that a national carrier can sustain loses for as long as the losses are not so huge as to compromise on other fundamental factors like safety.

“A national carrier does not only look at one route, instead it should have more routes where it can aggregate its loss making route with profitable routes.

“This will ensure that it serves the national interests such as tourism,” said Kaseke.

“It is wholly for this reason that we have been saying Air Zimbabwe should still be receiving some subsidies from the State as long as they have a vibrant business model supported by sound operational policies, knowledgeable and competent management.

“We do not see any reason why our government should not subsidise them as it is arguably the norm the World over and for the benefit of the destination in case where other airlines withdraw services,” he said.

Currently, 16 airlines are flying into the country from a peak of 48 in 1999 and there are efforts to lure more and grow the tourism sector that has the potential of earning $5 billion annually by 2020.

 

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