By Fidelity Mhlanga
THE Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) held its annual congress in Harare last month and ushered in a new presidium. Our business reporter Fidelity Mhlanga (FM) chats with new HAZ president Farai Chimba (FC) to get insights into his game plan as well the hospitality industry’s prospects for the festive season .
Below are excerpts.
FM: Congratulations on being elected as the new HAZ president. Who is Farai Chimba?
FC: I’m a hotelier, who has a passion for creating experiences that get ingrained in memories.
FM: What is your game plan as you come in as the new president?
FC: We come in as a presidium at a time the pandemic has ravaged our businesses with two major impacts being financial and human skills losses.
It’s a restart for the industry that requires financial grants for operators and other tax breaks and incentives to be able to provide world class hospitality facilities and services bearing in mind those new costs in the form of PPEs and other related safety measures added onto cost structures.
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Human capital investments will be focal to reclaim the service standards starting with basics while building a pool of future skilled workforce through intensive programmes. We are targeting the youth as part of this creation of a new pool of skills to be trained for entry into hospitality. This will be achieved through collaborative partners such as the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority and other key stakeholders. My belief is to achieve the NDS1 goals for tourism towards a US$5 billion tourism economy is driven through our sector and equipping the people leads the process on the ground to creating an environment that will give a tourist reasons to come to us , refer others and return. This comes by having right service training from point of entry to where they will stay to departure.
FM: What new strategies do you seek to come up with to transform the hospitality industry during your tenure as HAZ president?
FC: Now more than ever the use of technology in any business or organisation has a huge bearing on how you become relevant, which as an association we cannot be left behind on. Adoption and utilising online opportunities to create brand visibility, convenience and innovative products will go a long way for members and association alike.
Synergies with other regional association bodies will ensure we do not operate in silos, but create platforms to share and peer review each other to improve our standards. We will have programmes that will see exchange programmes rolled out as far out as Europe to be able to compete globally in hospitality. No one is left behind on the programmes from SMEs, students and corporate members . These programmes will be open to members to create value from their affiliation to the association.
FM: What has been the most difficult challenge that you have endured during these past two years we have been experiencing the pandemic?
FC: The pandemic brought in a phase that shut doors to our business with immediate financial losses, which we will not recover from. A room not slept in is revenue you can never recover. Tourism as a whole has lost in excess of US$ 1.1 billion, which has left a deep hole for operators who are now struggling to restock and equip their operations. Loss of jobs is estimated to have been 45% by year end 2020 coupled with over eight months of non-operations for most businesses- skilled personnel from lowest levels up left the industry completely into other sectors of the economy. This was skills wealth created over decades lost which will take years to build on again.
FM: With the resort town of Victoria Falls reaching vaccination herd immunity, how has that impacted on your business?
FC: This was a positive move by the government of Zimbabwe through Ministry of Health which we applaud for the proactive move that immediately had a bearing in creating the destinations attractiveness again. As a first city in Africa with heard immunity it created positive waves and attention to reignite travel there. What followed was a resumption in international arrivals with all airlines back into the destination by October.
FM: There are concerns that tourism packages are way expensive and out of reach for ordinary Zimbabwean. What’s your comment on this and is there anything being done to rectify this?
FC: This is an area that has remained topical, which has different dimensions to it. By nature tourism and hospitality operate at the end of a value chain and as operators in business you pass on the cost to the consumer. That said there is an assumption of super profits for example when you purchase a drink in a restaurant without realizing the process to get it there which is the cost build up.
Supply and demand also play a major factor in pricing. Peak demand days like holidays or key events will command higher rates than off peak days. There is a need for us to also bring to our market the fact that there is a product for everyone from student holiday options all the way to your high end luxury products. At times focus has been on the top end pricing models, which are out of reach without looking at other affordable options. If you go to Victoria Falls or Nyanga there are products available from US$20 in a clean and comfortable setting. We need to create visibility and these are some of the products among many to bring out to the market which can support domestic and regional tourism. From an association perspective the balance sought is how we can reduce our costs through engaging our value chain that supports the drive for affordable end products and correct pricing. We are happy to share that most players have over the past year reviewed and given very favourable discounts, a reason behind the success of the domestic tourism drive.
FM: What issues do you intend to lobby with the authorities as you come in as new president?
FC: While the issue of excessive licensing remains on top of the agenda through the parent ministry, there is progress towards consolidating the concern over the years of more than 35 licenses that we have to pay to operate.
Our shift is more towards how we can positively contribute towards the US$5 billion tourism economy by 2025 and capacitating the hospitality industry to build towards this goal
FM: Do you seek to push for any tax holidays for the industry?
FC: This is the most ideal for tourism as a whole with Zero rating tax regime implemented if it’s to support our recovery.
FM: Do you see tourism recovering and what opportunities are you seeing in future?
FC: Tourism has always been a low hanging fruit, which if supported fully the recovery can be immediate . We saw with the vaccination drive and we’ve seen it with the Victoria Falls Airport so it’s about creating access and the right framework to operate in that will create destination attractiveness and competitiveness. We can certainly recover quicker given the right policies and mechanisms in place that support movement.
Our opportunities lie in that we have a natural wonder of the world (Victoria Falls) and creating easy access to the rest of the country’s destinations that is the gateway to growing the whole country’s tourism nods. Completion of the Robert Gabriel Mugabe Airport is exciting for tourism as real opportunity to engage more long haul airlines and grow into a hub translates to visitor arrivals to filter in the country. Road infrastructure progress to date and completion thereof will set the platform for significant growth
FM: In terms of Covid-19 relief, how much did your sector receive from Treasury?
FC: This has had implementation hiccups and the industry still awaits implementation. We know our parent ministry continues to work tirelessly to have this addressed and recently we were appraised of funding that will be availed for industry soon.
FM: What are your prospects for the New Year as an association?
FM: We celebrate 75 years of existence in the coming year which is in itself a major milestone.
What we have is to reimagine and navigate our businesses in a new normal by creating a platform that drives value for our members and experiences for our customers.