ZIMBABWE Council for Tourism (ZCT) has urged the government to restore order at Beitbridge Border post and reduce the number of police roadblocks to improve tourist arrivals.
BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
ZCT president Francis Ngwenya told Southern Eye that Beitbridge Border Post needed to be cleaned up and refined to be efficient.
“Visitors are made to loiter at the border for seven to 12 hours to cross the two border posts. It discourages road traffic,” he said.
Zimbabwe has 15 ports of entry manned by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra), but the borders remain porous as travellers encounter numerous challenges, which include corrupt officials and delays.
Beitbridge border post is dogged by a shortage of staff, with only 248 Zimra officials working at the port which requires about 336 workers.
Tourists wishing to travel to Victoria Falls through Beitbridge are frustrated by waiting for seven to 12 hours to be cleared by customs and immigration officials.
Besides the chaos at the border post, Ngwenya said there were too many police roadblocks in the country and that was scaring away self-drive tourists.
“There are too many roadblocks and there is too much inconsistency on the conduct of the police at the checkpoints,” he said. “Some seem to be fundraising projects for State and private pockets.”
Ngwenya said one self-drive tour operator had asked for a single vehicle check for tourists at point of entry and a seven-day certificate for the car so that road users would not have their cars inspected for road worthiness at each roadblock.
“We support this and believe that it would promote tourists who would visit the vast expanse of Zimbabwe and not just Victoria Falls,” he added. “Quick and easy clearance at Beitbridge is critical for the South Africa self-drive market.”
Ngwenya said tourism traffic in general was depressed in the first quarter.
He said tourism players had recorded cancellations due to the issue of VAT on tourism receipts, which became effective mid-January this year.
He said the 15% VAT on tourism receipts should be removed as local tourists were already paying it.
He added that since tourism influences sales in manufacturing, agriculture, commerce and other periphery sectors, the country would end up losing revenue downstream if tourists did not come.
“As a nation, Zimbabwe must interrogate the value chain and implications to business and social groups,” Ngwenya said.
“We have been dubbed an expensive destination for tourists.
“Causes for this view are mainly two-fold — our anchor currency being the United States dollar means we are compared price-wise with most world economies.
“Tourism being an end user passes on the high cost of doing business in Zimbabwe to the tourist who enjoys VAT refunds for shopping in most destinations such as South Africa.”
He said in some instances, local tourism operators had opted to absorb the 15% VAT rather than risk loss of business or attract litigation due to broken contractual arrangements.
“In either scenario, business is on the receiving end. International buyers find that a 15% increase is too much in hard currency for a destination that is already perceived to be expensive,” he said.
He projected a marginal decline at the end of the year in terms of arrivals.
Zimbabwe’s tourism sector, which contributes approximately 10% to the country’s gross domestic product, is also a major employer.