By Norma Tsopo
MUTARE – Local hoteliers are challenging government to help shorten time between tourist destinations by demilitarizing Grand Reef airport just outside the eastern border city of Mutare.
The eastern highlands is only currently only accessible by road in spite of its rich portfolio of world class destinations.
This has rendered it inaccessible to tourists who will be short of time especially to those who would have picked Victoria Falls, Kariba, Great Zimbabwe and Gonarezhou as their priority destinations.
With calls to demilitarize the airport gaining traction beyond hospitality players there appears to be real hope for the region to end its isolation from the rest of the country.
“Vacation times are being reduced by employers the world over meaning that tourists now need to spend even less time traveling from one point to the other and have more time to enjoy their visits.
“An airport in Mutare would make the Eastern Highlands attractive to tourists who would have visited places like Victoria Falls,” Musangano Lodge General Manager Leonard Bwanya said.
Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) senior official Clive Chinwada said an airport would cut out the hustle of road travel that may be keeping tourists out of the region.
“In Manicaland we are lacking direct flights like in other tourist destinations Victoria Falls, Masvingo (Great Zimbabwe) and Kariba.
“90 percent of the visitors in Manicaland are domestic, so this proves how we need direct flights for easy connectivity to draw international tourists that do not like driving long distances. Without direct flights to Mutare tourism in the Eastern Highlands will remain stagnant,” said Chinwada.
Their comments come as business leaders announced that they were joining tourism players to push for a local airport.
They declared their interests in an airport at a city hotel recently.
John Sanhanga who is front the campaign to engage government over air connectivity which captains of industry say would open up the region to investment opportunities.
“Manicaland is endowed with vast business opportunities but the province and the nation cannot grow when Mutare does not have an airport to boost these investment opportunities,” Sanhanga said.
Sanhanga said government should reconsider giving up Grande Reef – a military airport, 22 kms west of Mutare, to commercial use.
“The availability of this airport will increase tourist inflows, generate employment and improve the stock of infrastructure for the eastern border city,” he argued.
He said local business players should demonstrate their desire to have the airport as the only bargaining chip in pushing for government assent to their demands.
“We are the people and we should now make sure this thing happens… The government will also come on board if it sees how serious we are,” Sanhanga said.
Confederation of Zimbabwe (CZI) Vice President Richard Chiwandire pledged industry’s support of the initiative.
“We fully support this initiative and what is needed is that everyone who is involved in this should now be pro-active. The availability of the airport will be a key resource to development in Manicaland,” said