When the new $150 million Victoria Falls Airport – funded (through a loan) and built China – was commissioned, the Harare government hyped the fact that it could accommodate the world’s biggest planes.
However, it has now turned out that, while the new terminal can accommodate larger aircraft, it apparently has no room for the passengers.
An immigration official last week told tourism executives that, by the time construction started, the airport design was actually 20 years too old.
The project had been conceived several years in advance, but when funding was eventually secured and the first brick laid, the designs were not revised.
“It was done many years ago and when it was then developed I think close to 20 years after and many things were not revised,” immigration department principal director, Clemence Masango, told a tourism meeting in Harare last week.
The department has reportedly been struggling to handle the increased visitor numbers, resulting in tourists spending spells in queues that often stretch outside the airport terminal.
Concerned about the adverse impact on business, the tourism industry has demanded action, accusing the immigration of incompetence.
However, Masango said it was not the department’s fault. Facilities at the airport were just not fit for purpose, he explained.
“That arrivals hall, I think most of you travel a lot; in other airports (a facility like that would) just a lounge,” said the immigration office
“If three planes come fully loaded and they bring on average 200 people, the hall cannot fit in 600 people at once, that is why you see some passengers spilling to the tarmac.”
The airport was commissioned by former President Robert Mugabe in November 2016.
Speaking at the event, the veteran leader said the new terminal could accomodate1,500 000 passengers per year, up from 500,000 before the multi-million-dollar revamp.
“This development indeed signifies exciting times ahead for our aviation and tourism sectors. The upgrading of the airport paves way for Victoria Falls Town to become a tourist hub for Zimbabwe, SADC and the rest of the continent,” he added.