THIS year the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) designated World Tourism Day as a day to focus on tourism for inclusive growth and an opportunity to look beyond tourism statistics and acknowledge that, behind every number, there is a person. The World Tourism Day, celebrated each year on September 27, is the global observance day fostering awareness of tourism’s social, cultural, political and economic value and the contribution that the sector can make towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goals. As the Zimbabwe tourism tries to recover from the aftermath of the global pandemic, Covid-19, which saw arrivals plummet by 90% last year, the highest such plunge in four decades. Our senior business reporter, Melody Chikono (MC) caught up with Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) acting chief executive officer, Givemore Chidzidzi (GC) on the sidelines of the Institute of Governance and Accountancy of Zimbabwe (CGI) annual conference in Victoria Falls last week. Chidzidzi said while a number of strategies were being implemented for the revival of the sector, it was too early to talk of the sectors’ growth but recovery. However, the ZTA boss remains optimistic that after the storms, one of Zimbabwe’s key industries would emerge from the doldrums. Below are the excerpts of their discussion:
MC: The tourism sector has requested the government to review the taxation system following the outbreak of Covid-19, which grounded operators most of last year and this year. Could you give us an update on this?
GC: The tourism industry was seeking relief in order to revive the industry. One of several issues that were being considered was granting concessions, which dovetailed into the National Tourism Recovery Growth Strategy. In the last budget the government granted Value Added Tax (VAT) exemptions for domestic tourism. That facility was available until the middle of the year. Now they (authorities) are saying it is still under consideration. We are waiting to hear from the government about the position regarding continuation of that incentive.
MC: What is your comment on the recovery of the tourism industry, given that Zimbabwe is still in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic? It also faces several economic challenges.
GC: A raft of interventions were put in place. To start with, the government launched the National Tourism Recovery Growth Strategy in August 2020, which laid down a number of interventions and strategies, which needed to be put in place. The strategy was centred around addressing both the supply and demand sides. This is what we are running with and implementing. On the demand side we are looking at domestic tourism, regional tourism and international tourism, in that order. I think everyone agrees that our tourism sector suffered a heavy blow due to Covid-19 because when the pandemic broke out, we had already started registering cancellations, flights were discontinued and borders were closed. Everything else was still happening. Trade was still taking place, goods and other services were still moving. But when it comes to tourism, it was not possible as people stopped travelling. Obviously, we had to come up with some proper guidelines and protocols of how to run and conduct business in such a situation. That is when we came up with all those Covid-19 regulations that included, sanitisation, masking up, proper washing of hands and then everyone followed procedures.
MC: In line with those interventions, what can you say about tourism growth projections at the end of this year?
GC: We are not yet talking about growth. However, maybe year-on-year we might close this year with higher arrival figures than we had in 2020. But the result or the turnout for our tourism in 2020 actually winded us back 30 years. We actually attained the same number of arrivals and receipts that we experienced in 1991. That is a very huge gap to recover from. If you fall back in that direction or fall into a hole that is deep, you first have to come out before you can start talking about progress. So, we really need now to start coming out and talking about growth. Right now, we are talking about recovery and we are very excited about the relaxations that are happening throughout the world in terms of movement of people. Here in Zimbabwe the roll out of the vaccination programme happening has been progressing, with places like Victoria Falls attaining herd immunity. Other areas are following quite strongly. As the government intends to get head immunity for the nation by the end of the year, I think our tourism will make a comeback very soon.
MC: Zimbabwe lost many jobs in the tourism sector. Do you see these jobs being recovered?
GC: Once tourists start arriving, you will realise that the service will be increasing. This is a service industry and you have to give a reasonable amount of service depending on the demands. For example, a hotel needs to have bedroom hands per room occupied. So, as the traffic increases, obviously the jobs will be recovered. But the question is at what rate. All that will depend on the rate of recovery that we will be experiencing. Here at Elephant Hills and Victoria Falls hotels, we have started seeing an increase in activities. Already when the numbers soar you start seeing a bit of a stretch and when that stretch comes we have to hire people. But, now it is a matter of how sustainable this recovery is going to be because when people start tossing about a possible umpteenth or whatever wave, that becomes a bit scary because you will be moving forward and backwards and the tourism industry will continue relying on contract stuff. We have already reduced permanent staff and operators are not recruiting as much as they would.
MC: You have spoken about MICE tourism. Can you shed more light on this?
GC: Mice tourism refers to business events and business travel. Last week, we were in Bulawayo for the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair. It is another MICE. We have usual meetings that we do, then we have what we call incentive travel. So the ‘M’ stands for Meetings, ‘I’ stands for Incentives travel, ‘C’ for Conferences, which others want to call conventions, and the ‘E’ stands for Exhibitions. Others would want to call this ‘events’, for example, the Bulawayo festival we had three weeks ago, which saw a lot of people coming. These are developments for promotional strategies because events attract people. It is a segment of tourism that can easily be swayed by organisational prowess that one has.
We are here as ZTA to give technical expertise and advice on how people can run these conferences as we try to develop a robust MICE sector made up of professional conference organisers and all the other service providers.
MC: What is your outlook for this year as ZTA?
GC: We are hoping that the last quarter, everything else being equal, will be a lot better than last year. I cannot give numbers right now, but let us just watch this space and see what is happening because of the opening of the space and the relaxation of the lockdown and obviously, God willing, we hope that the numbers don’t start falling again and that our economy returns to normality.