HARARE – Kenya Airways has set its eyes on the Victoria Falls route as the regional airline expands its footprint across the continent.
The latest development comes following the completion of Victoria Falls International Airport’s multi-million dollar facelift and expansion.
The airport’s runway was expanded to four kilometres from 1,5 kilometres, allowing it to accommodate long haul jets and increasing the number of foreign passengers it could handle per annum by threefold to 1,2 million and up to 500 000 domestic travellers.
Kenya Airways’ managing director Mbuvi Ngunze said the airline, which will launch its inaugural flight from Nairobi to Victoria Falls on May 18, had seen increased demand for the route.
“This will be Kenya Airways fifty second destination and its second city in Zimbabwe after Harare where it operates 21 flights weekly. This will see the airline increase its operations to Cape Town from the current four, which are served via Livingstone, Zambia, to six,” he said.
The national carrier of east Africa’s largest economy, which reported a net loss of $258 million in 2016, is seeking to recover from a failed expansion strategy and hopes to use the Victoria Falls route as a test case.
Ngunze noted that the new route highlights the company’s strategy to continue ‘Winning in Africa’ which is driven by opening up the region and ensuring that its value proposition meets customer demands.
“We have seen increased demand for Cape Town, and had to increase our frequency in December. The route via Victoria Falls offers our guests two leisure holiday options,” he added.
Kenya Airways will be the only carrier offering direct services between Victoria Falls and Cape Town.
“This offering will see guests enjoying Victoria Falls from the Zambia side via Livingstone and Zimbabwe side via Victoria Falls. The route will be operated by Embraer E190 with a configuration of 12 business class seats and 84 economy class seats,” Kenyan Airways said.
Departing Nairobi at 7:20am, arriving in Victoria Falls at 9:30am, the flight will then depart Victoria Falls 10:20am to arrive in Cape Town at 1:25pm.
The return flight will take off from Cape Town International Airport at 2:15pm, arrive Victoria Falls at 5:10pm and depart Victoria Falls at 6pm and touchdown in Nairobi at10pm.
Aviation experts said Turkish Airlines and Emirates could be the other international airlines to operate flights into the resort town.
The introduction of more flights into the resort town would improve accessibility for foreign tourists, riding on their extensive global networks.
Emirates operates over 1 800 weekly flights from its hub at Dubai International Airport, with a fleet of modern and efficient all-wide body aircraft, into 144 cities in 81 countries.
The big carriers will serve as a vital artery routing Western tourists and travellers from other markets into Zimbabwe without having to go through the burden of switching airlines.
This is projected to boost arrivals from markets such as England, which is not served by direct flights from Zimbabwe.
Arrivals from Britain and Ireland declined by eight percent in 2014 to 38 600.
The Asian markets, which have been affected by connectivity hurdles, suffered a combined 19 percent retreat to 42 800 in 2014, from 52 900 in 2013.
In Zimbabwe, operators have been repositioning businesses in the resort town.
For instance, Africa Albida Tourism, proprietors of Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, has announced new strategies to expand in Zimbabwe’s prime leisure destination ahead of the projected boom in tourist numbers.
Following a decade of economic meltdown that ended in 2008 which saw many airlines shunning the route due to depressed business, Zimbabwe has been trying to lure new airlines.
Since 2009, the country has welcomed back airlines such as Air Namibia, EgyptAir, LAM Mozambique Airlines, and Fastjet of Tanzania.
Air Malawi and Emirates have also started flying into Zimbabwe.
Earlier this year, another African airline, RwandAir announced that it was set to launch its inaugural flights to Zimbabwe in April 2017, adding that a Victoria Falls one was also in the pipeline.