The local tourism sector, which has been hamstrung by global travel restrictions imposed to stop the spread of Covid-19, is now angling for a sharp turnaround after the pandemic.
Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu revealed the ambitious revival plans at the virtual opening of this year’s Sanganai/Hlanganani-World Tourism Expo on Thursday.
Sanganai/Hlanganani-World Tourism Expo is an annual tourism trade fair organised by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA).
This year’s virtual edition had more than 100 premier buyers from across the world.
More than 150 local and international exhibitors participated. It comes after the recent launch of the National Tourism Recovery Strategy, which is premised on growing the sector to US$5 billion by 2025.
ZTA estimates that the local tourism sector could have lost as much as US$1 billion from unrealised business owing to global travel restrictions.
Minister Ndlovu said Government is currently engaging stakeholders with a view to map how best to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis.
“The hosting of the virtual Sanganai/Hlanganani-World Tourism Expo marks the beginning of many such initiatives that seek to position our destination to the local, regional and international markets,” said Minister Ndlovu.
“While we have started taking baby steps towards recovery, it is a journey that we cannot undertake on our own, hence we celebrate the hosting of the virtual Sanganai/Hlanganani expo as it has brought us together to collectively work in mapping the way forward.
“My office remains open to both local and international partners who have solutions that will see Zimbabwe emerge as a must-visit destination post-pandemic.
“I am certain that with everyone’s involvement, we will be able to turn what has been a dark period for our sector into a resilient, vibrant and thriving industry,” he said.
Zimbabwe last month opened its skies to both domestic and international flights.
Regional and international airlines such as Fly Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, Fastjet, Kenya Airways and RwandAir have already shown interest in expanding their local footprint.
Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe president Ms Winnie Machanyuka said the local tourism sector has the capacity to overcome the Covid-19 setback and achieve the 2025 milestone.
However, to achieve this, Ms Machanyuka added, there is a need to improve the product and make Destination Zimbabwe more competitive.
“The sector is more than capable of achieving the US$5 billion tourism economy,” she said.
“The fundamentals are in place and there are capable minds within the industry at both public and private sector level to drive this grand initiative. The collaboration we have seen during the Covid-19 lockdown is testimony of how this collaboration could be taken forward.
“Some of the initiatives we look forward to are that industry upgrades the product so that the destination is more competitive, but to achieve that, industry needs support in duty and tax rebates, institution of a viable financial stimulus package for working capital and revolving fund for capital expenditure.”
Government and local authorities were also encouraged to harmonise and reduce licences required to operate businesses
in order to facilitate growth and sustainability.
The classification of Zimbabwe as a safe tourism destination by US travel agency Tourlane has added oomph to current initiatives to market the local tourism product.
A former US Department of Defence and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) security expert with years of experience on risk assessment worked with Tourlane to come up with the guide that tourists use to make decisions on where to travel.
While Zimbabwe scored 35,48 out of a possible 50 points, Thailand came second with 35,33 points in the travel destination index.
Most countries have started to remove the travel restrictions as they adapt to the new normal.
While the country opened its skies last month, it is yet to open its land borders.