THE tourism sector has been adversely affected by Covid-19. Authorities estimate that around 54 000 people who worked in the sector lost their jobs over the last year, while the economy could lose as much as US$1 billion to the pandemic. With the third wave of the pandemic subsiding, the tourism industry is now set on a journey towards recovery. The Sunday Mail’s Senior Reporter LEROY DZENGA (LD) spoke to Zimbabwe Tourism Authority board chairperson, Ray Mawerera (RM), on the state of the tourism industry and his plans to stimulate growth of the sector.
LD: It has been a month since you were appointed as the board chairperson of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority. I would like to find out your initial assessment of the organisation?
RM: The organisation is generally in good standing from an operational perspective and has been focusing solely on delivering its mandate.
The authority has not been spared from the effects of Covid-19 and I would like to thank the team that has managed to steer the ship during these turbulent times.
LD: Every high-level appointment comes with a specific brief; may you please share what key areas you were assigned to look into by the appointing authority?
RM: I am coming in at a time when the authority is in the hunt for a new chief executive. This becomes my initial preoccupation, to ensure that the organisation has a substantive chief executive.
Let me take this opportunity to also thank my now vice chairperson, Dr Patience Sibiya, for leading the board and ensuring the way is cleared for the chief executive’s appointment.
The other areas of focus are to work around post-Covid-19 actions for an anticipated tourism rebound, which entails ensuring that the ZTA is resource-ready in all aspects and capacitated to execute its critical mandate.
And when we talk about being resource-ready, we include the human capital resource, the most important asset we have in the organisation.
As we prepare for visitors to return, we see domestic tourism as the low-hanging fruit and we are going to be highly aggressive in that regard so that, even when the international traffic returns, our domestic traffic would have reached that level of strength that we can be satisfied with.
LD: As a board, what are your short-term, medium term and long-term plans?
RM: The authority is in the process of implementing the Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy which feeds into the National Development Strategy 1.
This is what will occupy the board in the short to medium-term.
Key to that is the matter of repositioning Destination Zimbabwe as we recover from the effects of Covid-19, but this depends on the developments regarding the pandemic itself.
It is our hope that the international and regional markets will start opening up and we will go back to promoting the destination more vigorously within our source markets.
The board will be focusing on the target already set by the Minister (of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry), that of growing our tourism to a US$5 billion sector.
This is our sector’s extensive contribution to the first phase of the National Development Strategy (NDS1) and, ultimately of course, to Vision 2030, the vision to create an upper middle-income economy and society.
LD: The tourism industry has been hard hit by Covid-19 and even the recovery is yet to solidify. How does ZTA plan to assist industry players to recover from the effects of the pandemic?
RM: I am glad you understand how affected the tourism industry has been by Covid-19.
Measures such as closure of restaurants almost grounded these facilities.
I am, however, pleased with latest measures taken to open restaurants and allow sit-ins and also the re-opening of inter-city travel.
All these measures demonstrate how the Government is cognisant of the significance of reviving this industry.
The other way we are assisting key players to recover is by hosting and attending travel shows such as Sanganai/Hlanganani World Tourism Expo.
This is where tourism industry players and their enablers converge and network for the benefit of their businesses and operations.
Apart from this, the ZTA, through the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry approached the Government with a view to seeking financial injection into distressed organisations.
The Government assented to this and organisations in need were allowed to apply to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe for the Tourism Revolving Fund through their banks.
LD: There are concerns that locals are being priced out from enjoying our tourism products. What measures are you going to introduce to ensure that there is convergence between the disposable income of locals and the cost of our tourism products?
RM: Since the beginning of the lockdown, the ZTA embarked on an aggressive promotion of domestic tourism through a campaign called ZimBho.
It is meant to nurture local travel as a lifestyle within the mindsets of our citizens and create a sense of ownership and pride in being a citizen of a richly-endowed country.
In doing so we hope to groom natural tourism ambassadors, adventurers and explorers.
The Domestic Tourism Campaign is a product of the Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy which was approved by Cabinet for adoption into the National Development Strategy 2021-2025.
The strategy places domestic tourism promotion as a key and active tool in the revival of Zimbabwe’s economy post Covid-19.
We, therefore, continue to engage our private players in the sector to consider the concerns that you speak of, because they are an important aspect of the success of ZimBho.
We are very much alive to it and I am confident that we will get to win-win resolutions which will ensure that everyone benefits from the domestic tourism agenda.
ZimBho is a unique and exciting campaign and a simple tool by which Zimbabwe’s people get to appreciate their homeland.
The name was coined after taking into cognisance that “Bho” in Zimbabwe means “Good” or “Fine” and is common across all age groups.
As such, in the tourism context essentially, it means “Zimbabwe is beautiful and richly endowed”, thus “Zim is Bho” — ZimBho!
The call to action is “Vakatsha”, visit: visit your own country.
As such, the general populace can relate to it regardless of gender, age, background or status. It is not affiliated to any social grouping whether politically, economically or religiously.
It is, therefore, important that all parts of the country are accessible to its people.
LD: One of the longstanding concerns held by communities near resorts is how they do not have basic infrastructure yet millions are generated from facilities in their communities. How does the ZTA seek to rectify that anomaly going forward?
RM: Tourism thrives in a politically, socially and economically stable environment.
Things such as infrastructure, banks, communications are tourism enablers.
It is the Government’s duty to see that these are in place and are functioning well.
As ZTA, we can only lobby if these enablers are not in place.
We have done so previously and the Government has been very co-operative and, as you know, infrastructure development is a key priority in NDS1.
LD: Zimbabwe has an ongoing global engagement and re-engagement agenda. What role is the ZTA playing to assist this national drive?
RM: Re-engagement is another of the key pillars of the NDS1 and tourism is generally regarded as a tool for soft diplomacy, so you are right that the ZTA has a natural role to play.
As the ZTA, our mandate is to market and tell the Zimbabwe story.
We are working very closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and other line Ministries in unpacking and rolling out the re-engagement strategy.
Our focus as tourism has been largely on solidifying relations with countries that we consider source markets but I must say here we are going beyond what have been regarded as “traditional” source markets to broaden the base.