THE hoteling sector has faced many challenges, including foreign currency shortages and burdensome taxes. However, hope springs eternal following the recent change in government. Business reporter Kudzai Kuwaza (KK) spoke to the general manager of Harare’s five-star Meikles Hotel, Tinashe Munjoma, (TM) on challenges facing the sector, as well as the hotel’s operations.
KK: What has been the average occupancy of the hotel?
TM: During 2017, Meikles Hotel has enjoyed good support from a range of incoming business travellers, with a small but reasonable number of leisure visitors included in the mix. The occupancy increased 5% above that of 2016. There is, of course, great room for improvement and we are hopeful that 2018 will yield a significant increase over 2017.
KK: There has been an outcry over the number of taxes charged on those in the tourism sector, with some describing them as numerous and cumbersome. Do you share this view?
TM: We support efforts by the Zimbabwe Council for Tourism to draw attention to the number of levies, taxes and other financial impositions made on all hotels which, while intended to create funding for initiatives and projects of benefit to the country, have an adverse effect on the operations of hotels by reducing income and making accommodation rates uncompetitively higher than they should be.
KK: A paper produced by the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe says Statutory Instrument 64 has had a negative impact on the hospitality sector. How has the restriction on the importation of basic commodities affected your operations?
TM: Of primary concern to all hotels has been the rising cost of inputs, and it is on this issue that we have asked for a national concerted effort to reduce such costs and thereby make it possible for hotels to be competitive and viable. A wide range of factors have contributed to these rising costs, but it is our view that by working together all partners in the equation can reduce input costs and maximise viability, which is in the best interest of all stakeholders.
KK: How has the foreign currency shortage affected you in terms of service provision to your clients and how have you addressed this challenge?
TM: We have worked hard to source foreign currency for requirements and simultaneously have ensured that internal efficiencies bring about optimum usage of the inputs acquired, eliminating wastefulness and unnecessary procurements.
KK: What other challenges are affecting your sector?
TM: We have long battled to persuade international visitors that Zimbabwe is a worthwhile destination for business and leisure travel and for conferencing, but we now have the welcome opportunity of presenting to them a ‘new Zimbabwe’ that we know will be more attractive to them.
Domestic tourism has been affected by the economic downturn, but once again we hope the new socio-political dispensation will bring about increased activity in this area. The need for funding to upgrade product has been a problem but this has been addressed by the welcome establishment of a low-cost funding initiative which will assist operators to upgrade and prepare for increased numbers of visitors. The most important need is for a comprehensive, well-structured and well-managed international, regional and domestic marketing programme to stimulate travel at all levels and to increase occupancies, and business in general, among all hospitality establishments.
KK: There has been a lot of enthusiasm with the coming in of a new dispensation. Has this had an impact on hotel receipts?
TM: We have seen an increase in business visitors keen to come to Zimbabwe to look for opportunities flowing from the new dispensation. This is exciting and we are delighted that prospects for an increase in numbers of such visitors during 2018 and beyond are looking better than for many years.