Walter Mzembi, minister of tourism, Zimbabwe

As Zimbabwe prepares to commission the expanded Victoria Falls airport, doubling visitor capacity at one of the world’s most famous attractions, tourism minister Walter Mzembi here chats with Breaking Travel News editor Chris O’Toole about the facility’s transformative potential.

Also on the agenda are Mzembi’s own personal ambitions to lead the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and the vote of confidence this would provide for the country.

In April 2015, Exim Bank of China provided a $150 million loan to Zimbabwe designed to allow the country to expand the airport at Victoria Falls.

As Zimbabwe’s most prized attraction, the improvements were seen as vital in restarting the long-languishing tourism sector in the destination.

Now the facility is ready to open, bringing a renewed sense of optimism to the hospitality sector in the country.

As Walter Mzembi, minister of tourism, Zimbabwe, explains to Breaking Travel News: “The airport will be able to welcome 500,000 more passengers, now up to 1.8 million a year.

“Combine this with the capacity across the bridge at the Harry Mwanga Nkumbula Airport in Zambia, because remember Victoria Falls is a shared asset between the two countries, and we are looking at up to four million passengers which can be handled each year.”

If the country can get close to these figures it will be a major success, given the years of decline seen in airport capacity.

Mzembi continues: “At our peak, in 1996, Zimbabwe was receiving flights from 48 national carriers.

“Following our meltdown in 1999, the number of national carriers servicing the nation fell from that 48 down to around 14 or 15, which is where we are today.

“Most of those flights have connections into Harare, as the airport at Victoria Falls lacked the facilities to receive the larger aircraft bringing tourists.

“But now we have upgraded the airport to a level where we can land virtually any size and type of aircraft, we hope there will be flights now going direct to Victoria Falls.

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Source: Breaking Travel News