RawadAir and Ethiopian Airlines are the newest airlines to fly to Zimbabwe, as the government opens up its skies to other players after years of state protectionism for the country’s ailing flag carrier Air Zimbabwe.

The two airlines will start flights to Zimbabwe this year and are banking on the upgrade of Victoria Falls airport and growing prospects for business travel between Harare and regional as well as international destinations.

Opening up the skies is a major strategy the country’s Tourism and Hospitality Minister Walter Mzembi and the ZimbabweTourism Authority have adopted to boost visitor numbers into the country.

These efforts have now been boosted by RwandAir, which said flights to Harare are part of about seven new routes the company will launch this year.

“This year, there are plans for New York, London, Mumbai, Harare, Lilongwe, Bamako and Conakry. Mumbai and Harare flights will commence April. London Gatwick is slated for this quarter also,”said Nigeria country manager for RwandAir Ibiyemi Odusi.

The new flights would link up Harare andLagos in Nigeria, from which RwandAir already has flights linking to other 20destinations in Africa and in the Middle East.

In a bid to shore up prospects for its new routes, Odusi said RwandAir will use A330-200, A330-300 andB737-800aircraft for the trips. The planes will also have on-board Wi-Fi/mobile network capabilities.

Another continental carrier, EthiopianAirlines, has also boosted tourism prospects for Victoria Falls with direct flights from Addis Ababa to Zimbabwe’s resort town and tourism hub via Gaboronein Botswana.

“What we agreed is that we need to accelerate tourism development between the two countries.

“The ambassador indicated to me that as from March 26 this year, Ethiopian Airlines will be flying into Victoria FallsInternational Airport, (and) from there to Gaborone and Windhoek,” saidZimbabwe speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda after a meeting this month with the Ethiopian ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mustafe Dek Abdisalam.

Sugar Chagonda, spokesperson for theZimbabwe TourismAuthority (ZTA,) said Zimbabwe and the Ethiopian flag carrier are engaging in joint marketing initiatives aimed at boosting Zimbabwean tourism in the Spanish and Portuguese markets.

“We are excited to be working with progressive destinations like Zimbabwe through the ZTA. We see a lot of potential in the Madrid-Victoria Falls route,” Ethiopian Airlines area manager for Spain Alemu Bekele said this month.

Despite the keenness by airlines and other aviation sector stakeholders to grow services into Zimbabwe, there are concerns over deterrents in the the country such as spot fines for traffic offences and endless roadblocks.