A team from Buy Zimbabwe is in South Africa to explore among other things how our biggest trading partner has implemented its procurement programmes. As part of the visit the team naturally opted to use Air Zimbabwe as it carrier of choice. While the decision was to be expected a few members of the delegation were a bit concerned on whether the airline was going to live to their expectations with suggestions being made to hire a bus to make the long trip.
In the days when air safety has also been in the news following the tragic circumstances that befell the Malaysian Airline they were also understandable challenges that arose from directing people to set aside their fears all because of a need to fulfil a patriotic intent.
As a compromise the delegation agreed to split into two with the first team leaving a day earlier and the other on the next day.
The rationality was that experiences from the two delegations would not only provide some modicum of the fairest comment on the service, but that if worst came at least one group would leave to share the story.
As it happened both teams travelled well and met in South Africa where notes were compared. The results were quite revealing even to the ardent advocates of buying local.
On Air Zimbabwe there was a unanimous agreement that both flights were not only incident free but exceptionally conducted.
The flights were on time and service on board excellent.
In fact, unknown to the two delegations was that Air Zimbabwe had done its homework with regards to marketing its services and successfully raised the number of people going to South Africa to the extent, at least for these two days, of eclipsing rival carriers that included South African Airways. Through the current ongoing promotion where the return trip is $360, Air Zimbabwe is actually using the bigger Boeing 767 rather than the smaller Boeing 737.
While it is difficult to tell whether the airline is meeting costs of a bigger plane what was plain obvious is that the flights are currently fully booked with a very high patronage of Zimbabweans, especially students and families going to South Africa on holiday.
A related conclusion emerged which suggest that some Zimbabwean products and services still have some heritage which require only slight twicking for the market to respond positively.
In the case of Air Zimbabwe, the airline has an impeccable safety record that stretches for decades.
Those who have used the carrier have fond memories of their time on board.
The only concern has only been its consistence in terms of adhering to schedules and occasionally mixing up on passenger bookings.
Fundamentally, the Airline retains a code with its customer base. Where it has lost to rival carriers has been on its ability to remain consistent.
As such each time Air Zimbabwe have sought to upgrade service and sanitise the price offering especially on the Harare-Johannesburg route.
The challenge it would seem has been related to a failure to appropriately position outside promotions as well as communicate one message consistently to the mass of dedicated Zimbabweans.
From the analysis of the market aboard Air Zimbabwe it also emerged that rather than defend Zimbabwean brands, Zimbabwean CEOS, executives and even Government ministers have become the primary drivers of foreign brands.
These are the one who use South African Airways and any foreign carrier and flatly refuse to consider Air Zimbabwe whatever the price range that may be prevalent.
In as much as the call to buy local is everyone’s responsibility what is increasingly evident is that for the average Zimbabwean the biggest constraint in doing so is price.
With the right price, most Zimbabweans will easily switch to local brands.
Many would also stop buying second hand clothes or those made in China that cannot last a day and choose those products that are local and whose quality is legendary.
The example of Cairns Foods and Lobels who nearly folded up are sufficient testimony that local customers really understand the essence of brand loyalty.
As soon as products from these companies came to the market customers were ready to try them again, as long as the price was right and delivery was constant and consistent.
The trouble seem to be with those that are in decision making structures of both Government and the private sector.
Possibly because of high disposable incomes that this group has, the lure of foreign products and expensive taste has proven difficult to ignore.
An analysis of our current import bill would indicate that our national elites are the ones importing water to the tune of $22million at a time companies such as Tanganda and many other bottling companies have excess capacity.
This is also the group that constitutes the bulk of our Parliamentarians who refused to drive cars from Willovale Mazda Motor Industries in preference of Ford Rangers from South Africa.
Sadly too, this is the same group that receives tenders from the State Procurement Board.
In short an elite with a disconnect from the national sentiment and aspirations is driving our high import bill. The rest of the population seem ready and willing to support products made in this country as long as these products are responsive to their current socio economic condition.
The challenge is to put up policy and regulatory measures that ensure that the national interest is supreme and that the penchant for imports which is damaging our country does not continue to derail efforts some organisations are making to be more competitive.
The starting point at Government is to direct all government officials who travel to areas where Air Zimbabwe is going to use the airline.
The time to realise that Zimbabwe can never develop, create jobs, preserve its wealth and pride as long as we have high import deficits. With united action we can reduce our deficit.
Till we meet again. God Bless.
Vandudzai@buyzimbabwe.org.zw. Website www.buyzimbwe.org, Cell 263773751878