TOURISM players in Zimbabwe say 80 percent of bookings by tourists have been cancelled because of a month long strike by Air Zimbabwe pilots
The national carrier has not been flying since the end of July due to a protracted wage strike by pilots.
The drop in tourist arrivals would affect the southern African country's chances of achieving a projected six percent growth this year.
In July, tourism authorities reported a 16 percent increase in tourist arrivals for the first quarter of 2011.
Zimbabwe Council for Tourism president Emmanuel Fundira said there has been a marked decline of tourists visiting the prime resort town of Victoria Falls.
Victoria Falls, which is the southern African country’s drawcard for foreign tourists is losing its prime market share to Zambia due to the absence of Air Zimbabwe.
A limited number of tourists determined to view the Falls are resorting to using chartered flights or flying via South Africa but these options are expensive.
Tourists on small chartered flights with a capacity of 12 passengers fork out between US$4 000 and US$8 000 from Harare to Victoria Falls while commercial planes charge up to US$600 per passenger via Johannesburg.
Travelling by road is not an option for most tourists as it is time consuming. It would require two travelling days.
Hotels in Victoria Falls also been hit hard with low occupancy rates.
In his mid-term fiscal policy statement Finance Minister Tendai Biti who indicated that the tourism sector had registered growth during the first half of the year, bemoaned the challenges facing the national airline saying they were having a negative effect on the sector's growth.
With Air Zimbabwe grounded, it is losing close to US$8 million per month to foreign airlines, particularly South African Airways and Kenyan Airways which are servicing the routes.
Meanwhile, striking Air Zimbabwe pilots risk having their flying licenses revoked if they continue with their industrial action.
An aviation expert said pilots were subjected to regular tests to ensure that they were still capable of performing their duties.
He said in most instances pilots’ licences are valid for six months after which they have to undergo tests.
If, however, a pilot has not flown for about 90 days, they will undergo a simulator test. “At the moment that equipment is not available in Zimbabwe.
”Pilots operating long-haul planes will have to go to Ethiopia for testing while operators of small aircraft go to South Africa,” the expert said.