Boom times roll back after pandemic move

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Victoria-Falls-Safari-Lodge

BY SHAME MAKOSHORI
ONE of Zimbabwe’s biggest leisure chains projected on Wednesday that a big bounce back could be on the horizon, sweeping through the industry as early as April, following last week’s move by government to lift pandemic-induced tough restrictions.

Until now, Zimbabwe’s under fire tourism industry had predicted a long phase of depression before recovery returned during the tail end of winter, when COVID-19 waves temporarily fizzle out.

Africa Albida Tourism (AAT), which presides over a string of top-end hospitality gems including the world acclaimed Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, said relaxed COVID-19 restrictions announced on Friday came as global airlines trooped back following a frustrating two years characterised by hard lockdowns.

Chief executive officer (CEO) Ross Kennedy spoke after acting President Constantino Chiwenga dropped mandatory quarantine measures for foreign tourists following a pushback by operators, who blamed tough containment measures for creating corporate graveyards.

In a statement, Kennedy said AAT was now buoyant over 2022 prospects, as he hailed Chiwenga’s move as a “lifesaver”.

“The announcement by the government of Zimbabwe in respect of the easing of restrictions relating to COVID-19 is so important as to be viewed as a lifesaver for tourism,” Kennedy said.

“The pent-up demand for Zimbabwe and the region can now be unlocked and the impact should be incredibly positive for all in the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors,” he said.

The review came into effect as global source markets including the United Kingdom, eased their stance towards southern Africa, which in December courted the ire of African leaders.

“The easing of travel restrictions in source markets, such as the United Kingdom, also provided a major boost to potential arrivals from April, with bookings across Victoria Falls Safari Lodge estate’s 98 rooms already at 52% for that month, as well as longer-term forward bookings for 2023,” Kennedy said.

“The activity and forward planning for the region as witnessed by the Africa’s Eden travel show next week in Victoria Falls, coupled with new airline access and support is immense, making now an incredible time to plan your next trip and travel. Tourism is the fourth pillar of our economy, a significant employer and foreign currency earner, so the easing of these regulations will have further positive impact on communities, conservation and downstream benefits for the economy,” the AAT CEO added.

He said access to Victoria Falls and prime regional destinations had been boosted by the return of global airlines including Emirates and Eurowings, which will drive international traffic into an industry that had only last week warned that it was teetering.

“We are now faced with an industry that is on the verge of collapse if nothing is done now to assure the markets that we are doing something,” Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe president, Wengayi Nhau told The Standard a day before government reviewed the regulations.

“Victoria Falls is (now) a ghost town. (The resort town of) Kariba is just as good as buried. Conference business is under threat. We have a big conference coming up and nobody would want to have a situation where they are restricted in their rooms at the hotels. It defeats the whole purpose of being holiday.

People would rather not come to Zimbabwe. Operators have lost bookings to neighbouring countries like Zambia and Botswana, which have come out with more clarity in terms of protocols and regulations. Bookings and decisions on which destinations to go are made during the first quarter. We are already one month into the first quarter without clarity. We have causalities in terms of job losses and business closures. In the worst-case scenario, liquidations are going to happen soon,” he said.

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