ZIMBABWE’s tourism sector is working around the clock to adapt to the new normal.
BY MELODY CHIKONO
This means working out a strategy that attracts back foreign tourists into the country following a full year of challenges caused by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, while at the same time ensuring that those who fly in healthy can fly out in that condition after their tours.
It will not be easy.
But authorities have promised that as the economy reopens, tourism operators will be strict with compliance requirements designed by the World Health Organisation through its COVID-19 health protocols.
The tourism sector, which is a major foreign currency earner, generating just over US$1,3 billion, was the hardest hit by the freezing of international and domestic travel, which destabilised a 30% growth forecast for 2020.
From March, global travel was grounded after governments, terrified by the rapid spread of the deadly pandemic, banned cross-border travel and asked their citizens to remain indoors to prevent contagion.
In the end, international tourist arrivals in Zimbabwe plummeted by between 30% and 90%, with operators losing up to US$1 billion in potential revenues, according to statistics from the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA).
But this week, authorities said they were making headway in their efforts to rebuild the industry following resumption of operations in September, when government eased lockdown restrictions.
Critically, a few airlines have returned, with frequencies connecting Harare with a few regional destinations and at least one key international travel hub.
One of the major steps was the launch of the Zimbho campaign, last month, which encourages Zimbabweans to visit domestic tourism attractions,
Launched at a colourful event in the resort town of Kariba, the campaign has gained traction, and the ZTA has advised government to follow it up with a string of sweeteners.
Value added tax has been exempted on all tourism services for domestic tourists.
Also gaining traction is the strategy to diversify the tourism product.
Until now, concentration had been on the traditional resorts like Kariba, Hwange, Victoria Falls, Binga and the Eastern Highlands.
Most of these lie in far-flung remote locations, which are expensive for locals to reach.
But the ZTA says a new strategy being pursued would bring attractions closer to the market.
“Government has also opened up areas for tourism development to allow for product innovation and diversification in the form of cultural tourism, recreational areas and resort developments,” says Godfrey Koti, head of corporate affairs at the ZTA.
“Some of the areas earmarked for these developments include, Tugwi-Mukosi, Kanyemba, Osborne Dam, Binga and Kariba. In addition, a new tourism resort will be opened in Batoka area, where government has since demarcated land for tourism development, in addition to plans to establish a new hydropower station. It is encouraging to note that the Tourism and
Hospitality ministry is also pursuing the restoration of the Old Bulawayo Monument and the Epworth Balancing Rocks in close collaboration with the Home Affairs ministry,” Koti says.
Already, signs of a rebound are evident.
Recently, Africa Albida Tourism (AAT), which operates the magnificent Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, said it was reopening after strong domestic demand.
“Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, The Boma — Dinner & Drum Show, The Boma Café and the Buffalo Bar will reopen on December 10, after having been closed for nine months — due to coronavirus pandemic related travel the restrictions — following growing demand for the festive season,” AAT said.
“The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge estate partially reopened in July, when Victoria Falls Safari Club, Victoria Falls Safari Suites and Lokuthula Lodges, resumed operations but Africa Albida Tourism’s flagship property, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, and The Boma remained closed. Africa Albida Tourism chief executive Ross Kennedy said the decision to fully reopen Victoria Falls Safari Lodge estate came after further enquiries were received for the three properties which were operating, and which were already almost fully booked from mid-December to early January.
“Also, on the back of increased fastjet flights to Victoria Falls from Harare coupled with flights from Johannesburg starting from December 3, it was also decided that we should reopen Victoria Falls Safari Lodge and The Boma,” Kennedy said.
“Our decision to reopen was also influenced by a late surge in bookings as a number of Zimbabweans based in the United Kingdom and Europe have chosen to return home for between four and eight weeks over the lockdown time,” Kennedy said.
“There is very clear evidence that a large number of them have returned home, and are going to work from here during that period, and so I think we will see a late demand for the Falls and other tourist attractions in Zimbabwe,” he said.
The ZTA is also tapping into sport tourism, one of the fastest growing sectors in tourism.
Last month, President Emmerson Mnagangwa launched a promotional campaign spearheaded by ZTA and Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) to help rebuild the sector.
“The initiative is expected to leverage on the popularity of cricket which attracts millions of audiences across the globe to help make Zimbabwe a tourist destination of choice. This will see the Zimbabwe national cricket teams — whether on the field of play, training or travelling — wearing shirts bearing the Visit Zimbabwe, A World of Wonders branding on the sleeve. We are encouraged that last month, a United States of America-based travel and tourism agency, Tourlane, named Zimbabwe the safest place to visit in the world when countries reopen their borders for international travel post COVID-19 restrictions,” added koti.
The authority also called upon government, the tourism industry and other stakeholders to continue to put hands on deck in finding ways to address the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tourism sector.
The good news is the industry regulator said tourism had begun the first steps towards the much-awaited bounce back.
For now, however, a stronger recovery may not be guaranteed as the pandemic has been making fresh inroads into the country, with health officials reporting surges in new cases over the past 14 days.
But Koti says strict compliance with World Health Organisation guidelines will remain in force at tourist resorts, possibly giving travellers confidence about their safety.
Some airlines have already returned.
“Zimbabwe’s tourism sector, as with many industries, is slowly staggering to a new-normal after a tumultuous few months of uncertainty,” Koti says, writing in the newsletter.
“The tourism sector is a major foreign currency earner, generating just over US$1,3 billion from 2,5 million tourist arrivals recorded in 2018. The freezing of international and domestic travel has significantly impacted tourism, destabilising a forecasted 30% growth in domestic tourism by end of 2020,” Koti notes.
“ZTA will continue to roll-out campaigns to market Zimbabwe’s tourism and reassure source markets that destination Zimbabwe remains a destination of choice,” he says.
This story was originally published by the Weekly Digest, an AMH publication