New tourism mantra: Don’t cancel or postpone travel

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“DON’T CANCEL, POST PONE YOUR TRAVEL” campaign is the new tourism/business mantra or an otherwise business-like positive thinking by many in the tourism and hospitality sector. How sustainable is this mantra given the damage COVID-19 has caused so far?

The world at this juncture is seized with trying to understand how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and, at the same time, crafting a critical path of how to get back to normal. Varying time frames from 10 to 24 months are being muted in different capitals of the world.

The world predicament calls for pragmatic self reflection by every nation on how to get back to the new normal. Every nation is busy trying to protect itself and its citizens to the extent of closing borders to foreigners.
No one wants visitors. It’s time out for now.

The discovery of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, at the end of last year marked an unprecedented down spiral in the world socio-economic order. In March, the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a global pandemic which was testing human kind’s resilience in combating health strain never seen before.

The current scourge brings back distant memories of the 1720 great plague of Marseille and the 1820 first cholera pandemic, which killed 100 000 people, and also the 1920 Spanish flu that infected over 500 million people, killing over 100 million. A hundred years later, COVID-19 is here and has so far infected over two million people and killed nearly 130 000.

According to WHO, the situation is going to get worse before it gets better. The worst-hit countries include the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Italy and Spain. Africa awaits her day. Many cases have been recorded in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya and Algeria. In Africa, only two countries are yet to record infections. The issue of preparedness is now top of the agenda on the African continent.

The death of budding broadcaster Zororo Makamba in March this year raised the red flag for Zimbabwe to put measures into place. The current 21-day nationla lockdown is one such measures. COVID-19’s impact is being felt given the fragility of Zimbabwe socio-economic order, which is reeling under hyper-inflation at 676% and a strained public health system.

The global tourism sector has been tested once again by this invisible enemy that no weapon can fight. The industry in past decades has shown great resilience, recovering from global challenges such as HIV and Aids, Ebola, cholera and terrorist attacks, but has never been stretched to this current state.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimates that over 50 million jobs have been lost to date, billions of dollars in revenue lost by airlines, hospitality and tourism value chain partners.

Further, according to UNWTO, tourism arrivals will fall by between 20-30% and it will take not less than 10 months for the industry to recover. UNWTO is calling for the immediate strengthening of public health systems if the industry is to recover in the short term.

Otherwise it will be a long road to recovery. Thus the tenure of the pandemic will determine the future of tourism. Major global tourism platforms such as the International Travel Borse (ITB) — Germany was cancelled for the first time in 54 years, so was Africa’s travel showcase Indaba Durban and of course preparations for our own travel show Sanganayi/Hlanganani are nowhere on the agenda given the prevailing situation.

Global cancellations and postponement of sporting events, Olympics 2020 (summer Games) and Meeting Incentive Conventions Exhibitions (MICE) has been the order of the day. The unprecedented losses are huge and beyond human comprehension. At home, the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair became a registered victim of the effects of the scourge.

An announcement by the United States government of travel bans on visitors from perceived high-risk countries such as China, South Korea, Iran, Singapore, the UK, Ireland, Spain and Italy spelt doom for the tourism and hospitality sector.

This has seen major continental airlines plying transatlantic routes cancelling flights and downstream effect resulting in accommodation, restaurants, bars, entertainment centres closing, and holiday booking cancellations.

The devastating effect of COVID-19 is far more than that of cholera, HIV and Aids and Ebola pandemics. Lockdowns have become the norm as a measure to combat the spread of COVID-19. Zimbabwe, together with South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria, recently instituted lockdowns for at least 21 days. Botswana ordered a 28-day lockdown, while South Africa has extended by 14 days and Uganda by 21. Zimbabwe is yet to extend.

The lockdowns, a necessary medication to mitigate the effect immediately, resulted in huge economic losses to already depressed economies. The Zimbabwean tourism is among many sectors that has been worst hit with hotels and restaurants closing down immediately.

Victoria Falls the pride of the nation is on lockdown at a time the falls are roaring with the largest water curtain going down at over 4 000 cubic meters per second since 1978. Victoria Falls is among some destinations that have announced three months closures and these could easily go for months. What is going to happen to the thousands of employees and their families?

The international travel restrictions during lockdowns and the withdrawal of key feeder airlines such as South Africa Airways (SAA), Kenya Airways, BA Comair, Emirates and Ethiopian Airlines were a nail in the coffin for a buoyant Zimbabwean tourism sector.

How does Zimbabwe recover from the ravaging effect of this pandemic on the backdrop of an already depressed economy? It will take robust planning going forward.

Will the tourists and business fraternity heed the global common call for “DON’T CANCEL, POSTPONE”?

Closer home, South Africa and Kenya are singing from the same hymn book. Your guess is as good as mine.

Moving forward, world capitals are seized with putting together normalisation plans. A robust normalisation blueprint must integrate national, regional and international plans.

Zimbabwe’s recovery must be built on vibrant domestic economy, thus the tourism sector must partner with other sectors for a sustainable rebound strategy. All cylinders must be firing in the same direction.

Regional partners such as Sadc and East African community form part of regional package, thus there is need to plan together. Zimbabwe currently depends on regional feeder airlines such as Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, SAA, RwandAir and their withdrawal spelt doom for tourism and business sectors.

There is therefore need to closely monitor their plans because they have a strong bearing on our recovery strategy. The lifting of international travel restrictions by large source markets like the US, UK, European Union and China will dictate the pace of tourism rebound.

The role of the Foreign Affairs and International Trade ministry both at home and abroad will be key in understanding the world capital thinking on normalisation time tables.

It is going to take lots of lobbying for travel restrictions to be lifted.

The new normal will call for high health and security compliance at the destination.

Therefore, as a nation, we have lots to do and waiting to do. It is important to accept that the world will require some time to recover from the devastating effect of the virus.

Families putting a foreclosure/remember their departed ones and counting their loses.

Travel restrictions will be in force for quite some time maybe until such time a vaccine will be in place.
According to Anthony Stephen Fauci, director of the US Centre for Disease Control, the normal order will only be possible after 18 months.

The new travel order will now prioritise health systems at a destination.

Thus, our planning must guarantee a robust public health system for the now traumatised travelling populace.
Our current disaster management framework must be strengthened to include business support and social support systems.

One may suggest a business and social disaster fund learning from countries like Philippines, Thailand and Egypt.

This means we must take an inside out approach in our new planning.

We can also take a cue from other countries that have put together business rescue packages /stimulus.

The packages so far launched are prioritising lost employment sustenance.

As part of the rescue package, South Africa recently launched a business rescue facility of R250 million earmarked for the tourism SMEs.

The prioritisation of small business is logical given that tourism is basically an SMEs-driven sector.

The Zimbabwe industry profile matches that of South Africa, thus there is need to consider a robust package in order to save jobs and make available bridging working capital to kickstart the industry.

A raft of incentives must also be negotiated focusing on the review of statutory taxes and levies levels.

Zimbabwe tourism sector is subjected to at least 17 forms of levies and taxes. The industry was recently hit with high licence fees of over 500% increases in certain instances.

Air access is a key recovery ingredient for both tourism and normal business. How can a country function without its own flag carrier?

Our national airline is key to our rebounding. We can’t wait for our partners to decide for us. This is time we need our national carrier Air Zimbabwe to start working than ever before.

National marketing budget is required to take the nation forward.

Our holistic plan must look at all the factors taking industry and all special interests group on board to craft a pragmatic plan going forward.

The odds are against us from where we sit right now. We must, therefore, ask ourselves how sustainable is our new “DON’T CANCEL, POSTPONE” campaign given the global reality on the ground.

I bet the appropriate campaign must be “LETS GET THE ECONOMY WORKING FIRST”, taking all Zimbabweans on board. Stimulate domestic economy and the rest will fall into line.

Takaruza Munyanyiwa is a tourism consultant. He writes in his personal capacity.

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