Tuesday, September 25, 2012

► ZIMBABWE: Minister admits new Victoria Falls Airport terminal will not be ready for UNWTO event.

Zimbabwe GovernmentZimbabwean Minister of Transport, Communication and Infrastructure Development, Nicholas Goche, has come clean on events surrounding the refurbishment and expansion of Victoria Falls Airport, set to be one of the main transit points (the other being at Livingstone, Zambia's Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport) for next year's United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly.

Goche conceded that the on-time completion of a new airport terminal was not possible this late in the game, though the extension of the runway from 2'200m to 4'000m in order to accommodate wide body Boeing 747s and 777s, was still attainable.
“We have agreed with the contractor that the terminal building cannot be completed before the congress but the runway is important at this stage,” said Minister Goche.

Zimbabwe and Zambia won a joint bid to co-host the 2013 UNWTO Assembly, to be held in Victoria Falls and Livingstone on the Zambian side of the Zambezi River, beating Russia, Turkey, Jordan and Qatar.  Part of the assurances given in the bid itself were listed as:
  • State-of-the-art international airports and ground transfers.
  • Construction of a giant 5 000-seater convention centre in Victoria Falls.
  • Construction of two new three-star hotels within the vicinity of the convention centre.
  • Expansion of the Victoria Falls International Airport so that it can safely accommodate landing of large planes such as Airbus.
Source [The Zimbabwe Independent]

Currently, the project, financed via a USD150million loan facility from the China EXIM Bank, is said to be at "the stage where ground intended for use has been cleared with the still-unknown Chinese contractor in the process of mobilising all the necessary resources which are now in Harare."

The construction of the new terminal building is now only likely to be completed after the General Assembly, with the project also "expected" to incorporate the upgrading of immigration, customs and radar controls to international standards.

Victoria Falls airport
Victoria Falls Airport Terminal.(MSender)
The deference of the terminal building construction comes as it was revealed that the Zimbabwean Government recently abandoned plans to construct a 5'000 seat permanent conference venue due to its restrictive USD$130million price tag, fuelling speculation that the country may be forced "to pitch a tent at Elephant Hills hotel for the UNWTO assembly."

With over 1500 delegates and their lovers expected at the conference and an airport that resembles more an aerodrome from the 1950s than an actual airport, the Zimbabwean Government risks making a fool of itself and the country as whole on the international stage, at a time when the country is pushing hard to reinvent itself as a once-more desirable tourism destination following years of isolation.