By Norma Tsopo
Zimbabwe’s hospitality industry has received a major boost after government capitulated to years of lobbying to improve the country’s tourist attraction connectivity by demilitarizing Grand Reef Airport in the Eastern Highlands.
Government has now given the nod for the private sector to partner government in refurbishing and upgrading it to a civilian airfield.
Lying just 22km from Mutare, Grand Reef is set to offer the region greater linkage with other tourist destinations across the country as previously the nearest airport was 300km away in Harare.
Transport minister Joram Gumbo and a delegation which comprised experts from Civic Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ), Minister of State for Manicaland Provincial Affairs, Monica Mutsvangwa and business people visited the Grand Reef aerodrome from where he made the pronouncement following cabinet deliberations.
Speaking after the tour, Gumbo said they will allow local business community to upgrade the Grand Reef to a civilian aerodrome as an interim measure to boost the business and revamp the economy.
He said the private sector will be guided and supervised by CAAZ and Office of the Minister of State to ensure that they put a structure which suites world class standards.
Gumbo said the local business community will deal with the financial aspect while government will provide expertise.
“This was initiated by local business community. It was my wish that we have a bigger airport to facilitate the movement of passenger and cargo such as perishables which are grown in the Eastern Highlands. I didn’t know about this place but it was their initiative,” said the minister.
He said government, however, has identified its own site for a bigger airport at Grange, 30 km away from Mutare along Mutasa district and engineers will be working on the site soon to carry feasibility studies.
Currently tourists to the region have been at an all-time low after years of reports of the presence of extortionist policing on the country’s roads.
A Zimbabwe Tourism Authority report once claimed that there often as many as 14 police check points on the Harare-Mutare highway making self-drive tourism highly unattractive.
Relying on road to take tourists to other regions across the country was also no longer viable because it would eat into their limited holiday time.
Grand Reef Airport was for years considered wasted infrastructure as it was hardly used by the Zimbabwean army having been constructed by Rhodesian Forces during the colonial era to launch their attacks on guerilla bases in Mozambique as well as replenishing their fighting forces’ supplies from the then capital Salisbury.
Minister of State, Monica Mutsvangwa said Mutare as third largest city in the country could not do without an airport.
She said the development will also lure investors and boost business especially in the agro and tourism sectors.
“This will help boost tourism and the agriculture sectors. This is line with the vision of our President Emmerson Mnangagwa to improve ways of doing business and find new business methods that help resuscitate our economy to improve lives of local communities,” she said.