Politicisation of COVID-19: impacts on tourism

Source: Politicisation of COVID-19: impacts on tourism – NewsDay Zimbabwe

Regis Musavengane
TRAVEL history shows that for one to engage in tourism, one should have the ability to participate. Nevertheless, COVID-19 has redefined travel patterns of visitors in the nation and globally.

Reactions of some countries to the COVID-19 variants, in particular the B.1.1.529 variant which was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) by South Africa on November 24 2021 has been received with mixed feelings.

On November 26, 2021, WHO designated the variant B.1.1.529 a variant of concern, which was named Omicron, on the advice of its technical advisory group on virus evolution (TAG-VE).

Western countries adopted a hard preventive approach and were quick to slap the discovering country, South Africa, and other regional countries with a travel ban.

The precedent set by the United States and European countries was followed by other countries though without scientific evidence to support such actions.

Placing of South Africa and other countries in the region, namely, Zambia, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Eswatini and Lesotho on the red list by the United Kingdom was condemned by many.

The USA government justified its refusal of entry to southern African travellers.

However, its reasons cannot be justified scientifically and there are strong signs that the decision was irrational.

Unfortunately, as one of the superpowers, some countries simply followed suit.

Flights to southern Africa were banned. The United Nations secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, labelled the travel restrictions “not only deeply unfair and punitive — they are ineffective”.

He noted that “we have the instruments to have safe travel.

Let’s use those instruments to avoid this kind of, allow me to say, travel apartheid, which I think is unacceptable”. Malawi categorised the actions of US, EU and other Western countries as Afrophobia while legal experts cited violations of some treats and laws. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “We are deeply disappointed by the decision of several countries to prohibit travel from a number of southern African countries following the identification of the Omicron variant. This is a clear and completely unjustified departure from the commitment that many of these countries made at the meeting of G20 countries in Rome last month”.

This breeds mistrust among governments and promotes secret practices which is against the ethos of openness.

To worsen the situation, some African nations, such as Rwanda, imposed a travel ban on southern African travellers. To make matters worse, banned countries, notably Zimbabwe, imposed ambiguous regulations in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19.

The Zimbabwean government through Statutory Instrument (SI) 267 of 2021 — Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment (National Lockdown) (No 2) (Amendment) Order 2021 (No 37) announced that: “At every port of entry all returning residents and visitors have to undergo PCR testing (notwithstanding that they present a PCR negative test from elsewhere), and those found to be negative will be quarantined at their own cost for 10 days, while those who are found positive will be isolated in accordance with the provisions of the principal order. The position has been vehemently criticised by citizens and most tourism players.”

Having gone through a long period of closure, the tourism sector continues to be hurt by actions some governments are taking to curb the spread of the virus. In a recent study on distressed destinations, it was pointed out that most of the communities whose livelihoods rely on tourism continue to be disrupted by lockdown measures.

Most of the tourism entrepreneurs in the region’s tourist destinations that heavily depend on the international market have closed their businesses. Those, who were still able to see the light after the first hard lockdowns, are slowly losing hope after announcement of current bans and measures.

This mainly affects the country’s tourism sector as the domestic market seems to have been neglected by tourism principals. To encourage locals to travel (domestic), the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority has initiated the ZimBho. ZimBho resonates with one saying “I am Zimbabwean — I am Zimbo — I am ZimBho, we connect with our motherland in a special way, and we pride ourselves in it, #iZimYami! And we will explore”. Domestic tourism has been affected by very high prices at destinations, immobility or high travel costs, exclusion of community members in decision-making and dominance of the elite in the tourism industry. However, entrepreneurs can tap into the local market by providing affordable tourism products.

For example, a sector such as the Airbnb hasn’t been exploited much. This is cheaper to set up and relies much on local visitors. There is nevertheless a need to tighten security to ensure people do not accommodate criminals at their houses.

Consistent with past studies, it is important to suggest that the pricing framework for Zimbabwean tourism needs to be revised. With higher prices, the effectiveness of domestic tourism as a post-pandemic recovery strategy is elusive.

Restarting tourism with higher prices for a domestic market with limited income is difficult. Strategies that can be used by tourism entrepreneurs include, but are not limited to, offering discounts and incentives to the domestic market.

This is critical in attracting domestic tourists with little income to finance leisure travel. Matching regional prices charged in Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa could also help build a sustainable flow of income that could help protect tourism jobs and the livelihoods of local communities.

There is hope in the tourism sector despite the lockdown challenges. Innovative and critical thinking approaches are critical to sustaining the sector. Support and intervention for tourism SMMEs is unco-ordinated and there is need to reorganise to help small businesses to survive the crisis.

Regis Musavengane is a faculty member in the department of tourism, hospitality and leisure sciences at the Midlands State University, Zimbabwe and a research fellow in the School of Ecological and Human Sustainability at University of South Africa.

  • Regis Musavengane is a faculty member in the department of tourism, hospitality and leisure sciences at the Midlands State University, Zimbabwe and a research fellow in the School of Ecological and Human Sustainability at University of South Africa.