BY FIDELITY MHLANGA
THE scrapping of PCR COVID-19 requirements on flights has breathed a new lease of life to the tourism sector which has been teetering on the brink of collapse.
In January this year, the Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe (TBCZ) pressed the panic button, warning of damaging upheavals unless government shifted policy and relaxed the tough conditions imposed on hotels.
The TBCZ brings together several organisations that represent the industry’s interests.
These include the Association of Zimbabwe Travel Agents, the Board of Airline Representatives, the Zimbabwe Vehicle Rental Association, the Zimbabwe-Tour Operators Association, the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, the Catering Employers Association of Zimbabwe and the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe.
The sector’s predicament was compounded last year by the emergence of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, which forced government to apply tougher measures to fight the contagion, including shutting down public spaces in hotels, the locomotives that drive leisure and travel worldwide.
Government later scaled up restrictions when it directed restaurants attached to hotels, backpackers, lodges and guest houses to serve food and drinks only in rooms.
The multibillion-dollar industry, which makes up about 4,1% of Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product and generates about US$3 billion annually, has been pushed to the brink by COVID-19-induced hard lockdowns since March 2020.
But the introduction of Eurowings flights to Victoria Falls a fortnight ago marked the first European long-haul airline into Victoria Falls in a long-time breathing life into a sector battered by COVID-19 induced lockdowns.
Qatar Airways also made its maiden direct flight to Zimbabwe in the last quarter of last year.
This adds to other airlines that resumed flights into the country following the relaxation of COVID- 19 restrictions.
Government also scrapped the PCR requirements for travellers into the country making it easy for tourists to visit Zimbabwe.
Former Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe president, Clive Chinwada believes destination access is a key enabler to travel and tourism.
“A number of international airlines are now flying into Zimbabwe the latest one being Eurowings, which introduced flights into the Vic Falls. The increase in flights into the country means that access and convenience from feeder markets continues to improve making it a lot easier for travellers from these feeder markets to add Zimbabwe onto their travel bucket lists.
For instance, Namibia is predominantly a German and Central Europe travel destination with Eurowings being the main carrier from that source market. Victoria Falls, therefore, is going to become more interconnected with Namibia and central Europe which will in the long run boost tourist numbers from this market,” he said.
“PCR screening costs and restrictions have been a huge bottleneck to travel since COVID-19 broke out. As the world continues to adapt to life with the virus, governments across the world have begun dispensing with COVID-19-related travel restrictions.”
He said this was a positive development for travel and tourism given that free movement was vital to travel.
“Positive spin offs from this policy shift should soon be felt in some market segments such as business and corporate-related travel.
Leisure will also benefit significantly as the cost of travel improves,” Chinwada said.
The Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ) last year said tourism required at least US$100 million in fresh grants to stay afloat.
SOAZ chairman, Emmanuel Fundira said under the circumstances, extending loans to the sector would worsen an already bad situation.
It was the latest of a series of pleas by sector players for any form of intervention to avert a catastrophe after hotel occupancy levels plummeted from a near 50% in 2019 to about 13% currently.
The Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe economist Prosper Chitambara said the scrapping of travel restrictions would definitely trigger tourism recovery.
“I think this is a very positive development, more airlines means more tourist arrivals. There is a huge pent-up demand for local travel/tourism which is steering tourism recovery,” Chitambara said.
Economist Victor Bhoroma said the revival was long overdue as communities that survive on tourism were now under siege.
“This is very positive for brand Zimbabwe and tourism sector business. The tourism sector is undergoing a slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, hence the increase promotes tourist arrivals and foreign currency receipts in the hospitality sector.
Various towns locally rely on tourism for employment creation and revenues, hence a resurgence in international travel is long overdue,” Bhoroma said.
The tourism sector last year received a major boost after financial services group Old Mutual Zimbabwe opened the US$24,6 million Palm River Hotel in Victoria Falls.
The four-star facility, on the shores of the Zambezi River, is a partnership between Old Mutual and Spencer Creek, an established tourism firm with significant interests in the industry.
Other projects that were unveiled recently include Zambezi Boutique’s US$1 million investment and Nkosi Guest Lodge — a multi-million-dollar facility.
It would appear Zimbabwe could be on course to achieve the US$5 billion tourism industry economy by 2025.
- This story was first taken from the Weekly Digest, an Alpha Media Holdings publication