‘Brute force negatively affects tourism sector’

Kudzai Kuwaza

THE tourism sector has expressed concern over the impact of violent protests and the killing of at least a dozen people last month, saying such incidents hamper efforts to lure tourists to the country.

The countrywide protests, prompted by the government’s announcement of a 150% fuel price increase, were marred by riotous looting and destruction of property followed by a security crackdown that resulted in at least 12 deaths, scores of injuries and more than 1 100 arrests. Government illegally shut down the internet. The crackdown has drawn global condemnation.

Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe CE Paul Matamisa told businessdigest that the heavy-handed response by government created challenges for the sector, which was beginning to enjoy an upturn after years of being isolated as a tourism destination.

“The only problem we have is that sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot,” Matamisa said. “Demonstrations are normal and they take place not only in this country and in Africa but worldwide in countries like Spain, Germany and France. The reaction to demonstrations, however, dampens the spirt and creates a difficult environment.
Certain quarters begin to wonder whether to invest in the country.”

He revealed that some of the 18 tourism investment projects which are based in Harare and Victoria Falls have taken off and are at varying degrees of implementation.
Matamisa said among the investment projects is the construction of hotels and restaurants. Some of the country’s resorts have deteriorated over the years, affecting their competitiveness.

He said they continue to hold discussions with government over various issues affecting the sector, including the 15% value-added tax on foreign visitors.

The tourism industry has bemoaned the tax regime, which it says has made the Zimbabwean products more expensive. The cash-strapped government in January 2016 unilaterally introduced the levy on foreign tourist accommodation in a move seen as a desperate measure to augment the government’s dwindling revenues. This was despite appeals and protests from stakeholders in the tourism sector, who viewed the tax as tantamount to choking them out of business.

Matamisa also revealed that there was a significant increase in domestic tourism in Victoria Falls over the Christmas period last year, a development he described as encouraging.