PROMOTING Zimbabwe as a safe tourist destination on both regional and international platforms is continuing and should result in an improvement in arrivals in the near future. Zimbabwe Independent business reporter Melody Chikono (MC) caught up with Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) president Innocent Manyera (IC, pictured) this week. Below are excerpts of the interview:
MC: What are the key issues that your leadership as the new Haz president, will attend to?
IM: The call by government through the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality to have a 100-day plan for each sector will be our main thrust through the Zimbabwe Council for Tourism (ZCT) and Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA). As an association, we will be making the necessary noise to make sure members participate in government initiatives at planning level. The speech by the minister of Tourism and Hospitality during the official opening of the congress called upon our members to be part of the tourism and hospitality constituency in all aspects. This was further alluded to by the ZTA chief executive officer (Karikoga Kaseke) and the permanent secretary for the ministry (Thokozile Chitepo). We need to be a relevant sector for government to take our initiatives on board.
MC: Government promulgated Statutory Instrument (SI) 64 restricting the importation of certain commodities key to the operations of the hospitality industry. How has this instrument impacted on the operations of industry players?
IM: From research conducted on the matter, it affected the hospitality sector on other products that are not produced locally. Also, on those produced locally there were bottlenecks in supply. This led also to limited offering to the anticipated business patronising the country. For other destinations like Victoria Falls, it had a much more pronounced impact since they import even agricultural products from neighbouring countries given their proximity relative to our own agricultural regions of Manicaland and Mashonaland. Leisure business has also been affected since most of the products were for the leisure travellers. Also, low business that impacted on the tourism business means employees lost their jobs.
MC: As HAZ, what recommendations did you make on the instrument and do you think the instrument has achieved its objectives and will it be scrapped soon?
IM: According to the position of the sector, after research was carried below, are some of the recommendations we made:
Import licence moratorium to the hospitality sector since some of them operate under franchise with specific standard operational procedures. This will allow building of adequate stocks if in this case its extended to 12 months;
There is also requirement for import licence exemption for products not manufactured in Zimbabwe;
Three months tenure of import licence proved not workable due to cash flow challenges;
For operators in Victoria Falls special consideration should be given for other products in light of the distance between local suppliers, especially in the agricultural sector;
There is also need to prioritise foreign currency allocation to the sector;
In the long-term, there is need to empower the agricultural sector to increase production and also venture in new line products that are required by the industry. It will be ideal also if there is a one-stop shop for import licence application than to deal with multiple offices for one document.
Already, government has initiated some measures for a workable solution towards SI 64 of 2016. This is after industry and its value chain proved beyond reasonable doubt that it’s affecting smooth business operations until such a time our own industry has capacity to avail all the requirements.
MC: How are industry players staying competitive in an economic environment characterised by cash shortages and a debilitating liquidity challenge?
IM: This affects travellers, especially domestic ones. The effect has largely presented challenges in dealing with some of the commodity suppliers who require cash transactions due to the nature of their businesses. This greatly affected the industry on a quality of service level. It’s effect had a bearing on key personnel who are supposed to monitor and plan for smooth service who will end up being procurement personnel. However, thanks to relations with suppliers and bankers, the sector managed to survive in such an environment.
MC: Why are tourism players reluctant to access funding from the US$15 million Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe revolving fund?
IM: Although the tourism players had been pushing for funds from the government for some time, it’s only recent when the fund was availed. This naturally is good news and it’s a welcome development that industry will utilise.
MC: What key projects are hotels undertaking, and how much have major hotel groups committed towards refurbishments this year?
IM: There have been several projects taking place throughout the year. From updates, we have been seeing from different media platforms as an industry groups and other individual operators were actually trying best to upgrade facilities. Refurbishment projects have been taking place at Rainbow Tourism Group, African Sun/Legacy and Cresta Hospitality.
MC: In the short-term, do you foresee tourist arrivals increasing?
IM: Indeed, there are positive expectations even from the national budget. Efforts by the marketing arm of the ministry, that is ZTA and individual sector efforts will result in positive growth.
However, much of the growth will be seen in the medium to long term when the macro-economic ills are dealt with. The four “As” of a destination should complement each other for destination growth in arrivals that is: attraction, accessibility, accommodation and amenities.
MC: What are some of the strategies HAZ has employed to improve the Zimbabwe tourism brand?
IM: Several operators have been engaged to refurbish their facilities to match what competing countries offer.
There has also been participation at several trade shows locally and abroad in marketing Brand Zimbabwe under the leadership of the ZTA and ZCT as well as representation to the government on policy issues to encourage the right environment for the growth of the hospitality sector. Promotion of professional standards and training among members, in the interest of efficiency and guest satisfaction, also came aboard.
MC: Are you trying to explore new tourism markets?
IM: Indeed, through effort in MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events). There has also been a drive to promote domestic tourism together with the ZTA through initiatives like the Know Your Zimbabwe campaign.