ZIMBABWE’s once robust tourism sector has been recovering over the past few years and has the potential to be a major income generator, but this can only be enhanced through the promotion of local tourism which at the moment is at very low levels.
While the country has immensely benefited from the resurgence of foreign tourists to the country’s various resorts, locals who could make a substantial contribution to the industry’s revenue generation sadly continue to be left out due to various factors, chief among them the high costs associated with travel, accommodation and even meals at resorts.
A Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) survey revealed that domestic tourism is on the decline as hotels and other service providers are charging exorbitant fees at a time most Zimbabweans are struggling to make ends meet, with some now finding South Africa a cheaper destination.
A number of local tourists in Victoria Falls last week expressed shock at the fees being charged by tourism service providers to locals.
“Coming for holiday is very expensive, it’s like locals are not supposed to enjoy the tourism attractions around their own country,” said Luke Sibanda of Masvingo.
“Look at bungee jumping, it attracts a charge of US$120 per jump, rafting US$115, and a helicopter flight US$150 for 12 minutes. There should be prices tailored for locals so that we also enjoy these attractions.”
Sibanda said locals were failing to raise money for accommodation at local hotels because the charges were way above what they spare from their meagre salaries.
“Imagine a civil servant who earns US$500 and is expected to pay US$150 per night in a decent hotel.
“They would want to visit with their families. What this means is that we cannot afford to visit our own resorts.”
Closer to the capital, a day trip to Chengeta Safari Lodge, situated at the foot of a granite kopje in Selous, 75km west of Harare, costs US$59 per person with children below 12 years being charged US$49. Chengeta also offers a package including transport to and from the city, which costs US$89 per head.
“This is a day trip that includes two activities, namely, a game drive and an afternoon boat cruise,” said an official from Chengeta. “Our event starts at 9am and ends at 4.30 in the afternoon,” he said, adding: “Lunch is also provided, but the US$50 participants use their own transport to Selous.”
This means a family of six, with one child below 12, requires close to US$500 for a day trip using the lodge’s transport.
Accommodation is very expensive at tourist resorts in Zimbabwe as compared to other countries in the region.
At Chengeta, accommodation ranges from US$119 to US$169 full board per night, while it costs US$221 per night for a double room at the three-star Troutbeck Resort in Nyanga.
A three-star hotel in Kariba, Caribbea Bay Hotel, is one of the cheapest in the country costing US$52 per night for a double room.
Kingdom Hotel, which is a four-star hotel, charges US$1 827 for seven days while another four-star hotel in the same resort town, Rainbow, charges US$1 069. In South Africa, Rockwell All Suite Hotel in Cape Town, which is also four-star, costs at least R8 100 (US$810), while in Durban Protea Hotel Edward charges US$889 for the same number of days.
In a move aimed at promoting domestic tourism, Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Walter Mzembi is proposing a raft of policies that may boost local tourism.
“The government is working on a plan in which the civil service will get holidays as part of their condition of service in a bid to grow domestic tourism,” Mzembi said recently, adding that “the proposal is now with the Public Service Commission”.
“We have products that can anchor that (plan). National Parks (and Wildlife Authority) has 700 beds that are empty. Rather than let those assets lie idle, I envisage collaboration between Tourism and Environment ministries to utilise that dead capacity.
“We have designed it. We have referred it to the employers to make it a condition of service,” he said.
However, in separate interviews domestic tourists visiting the resort town of Victoria Falls accused the tourism industry of overpricing its products.
They called on the sector to consider dual pricing in all areas to cater for locals and boost domestic tourism.
The tourists said there should be prices for locals and foreigners for accommodation and other activities offered by the sector.
Permanent secretary in the Tourism ministry Florence Nhekairo said the growth and development of domestic tourism has been hampered by exorbitant fees.
“The government is concerned with fees charged by three-star hotels and below as they are higher than those of their counterparts in the region and we are looking into the various cost drivers.”
A senior official in the Zimbabwe Council for Tourism who spoke on condition of anonymity said overpricing is a result of service providers who incur high costs in licence fees charged by sectors such as the Environmental Management Agency, the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, Zimbabwe National Water Authority and Zesa.
“The tourism service providers end up increasing their costs because they are overburdened by licence fees and other operational costs which government has failed to control,” said the official.
In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent, ZTA head of public relations and corporate affairs Sugar Chagonda said costs in local tourism are high so service providers can also maintain high standards.
“It is true that Zimbabwe has a product which is on the expensive side when compared to other countries in the region,” Chagonda said.
“The main reason is to keep high standards (in the sector) because there have been no revolving funds for the local players to borrow from to support their operations.”
Chagonda also said the migration from the Zimbabwean dollar to the United States dollar also impacted on the costs of tourism because the sector’s charges remained very high as compared to South Africa and other countries in the region.
He also said his organisation is busy coming up with a package that best suits the local people so that they can also enjoy touring all the tourism attractions.