Coronavirus hits Zim tourism sector

BRIDGET MANANAVIRE

ZIMBABWE’S tourism and hospitality industry has recorded massive cancellations and postponements of accommodation and leisure activities following the outbreak of the Covid-19 coronavirus, which has triggered a wave of deaths in China and Europe, while disrupting business across the globe.

The disease, which was on Wednesday declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), has not spared Zimbabwe’s tourism sector, one of the country’s top foreign currency earners.

Zimbabwe’s tourism sector is estimated to have generated US$1,050 billion in receipts from international tourists in 2018, marking a 7% growth from US$917 million in 2017.

Although Zimbabwe has not recorded a confirmed case of Covid-19, its tourism source markets have imposed travel restrictions on citizens.Tourist arrival numbers have also dipped due to flight cancellations and fear of infection by travellers. Tourism operators and employers told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that the deadly disease, which had by Thursday morning infected more than 126 000 people and killed 4 640 in 116 countries and territories, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker, will greatly cost the country’s tourism sector.

“Bookings at our properties have been affected by the coronavirus, as some people are reluctant to travel at this time. Of these changes to our bookings, about half have been cancellations, while half have been postponements. We are monitoring the situation daily and are in communication with our industry colleagues, both locally and abroad. There will be damage to the tourism industry, but it is too early to quantify,” Africa Albida Tourism chief executive Ross Kennedy told the Independent.

Employers Association for Tours and Safari Operators founding president Clement Mukwasi, who is based in the country’s prime holiday resort Victoria Falls, said the drop in tourist arrivals is occurring at a time the industry was expecting a surge.

“Victoria Falls as a tourism hub receives its clientele from Europe, America, Asia and from within Africa. As you can see on the World Health Organisation distribution list, some of our source countries are affected. Italy has actually shut down and stopped its citizens from travelling; it means that no

tourists are expected from Italy in a short time to come. We were actually going into our busy season, and we had hoped that the bookings were starting to surge,” Mukwasi said.

“Cancellations of bookings between March and May may result in countries either downsizing or cutting down on working hours for employees. Some contracts may be terminated, but after the virus is gone we feel companies will be able to operate profitably.”

He said while the high temperatures in Victoria Falls do not make it easy for the virus to thrive and spread, the industry players were taking steps to ensure that whoever comes into the country is screened for the virus, and if there is any suspicion whatsoever health officials are informed at the first given opportunity.

“We know scientists are working 24/7 to find a cure for the virus, we hope this won’t take long. Our tourism industry is mainly going to be affected in as far as jobs are concerned, in as far as the earning of foreign currency is concerned and in as far as new recruitments are concerned, students on attachment, some companies might not be able to continue with it. We are still a safe destination but we are keenly observing what is happening in our source markets,” Mukwasi said.

Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe president Clive Chinwada said the industry was working with those that supply the Zimbabwe destination with inbound travellers to attain win-win outcomes through reviewing the terms and conditions in relation to cancellations.

“We are by and large encouraging postponements as opposed to outright cancellations and hopefully the outbreak will soon be brought under control. Once the crisis is over we hope the pent-up demand will then assist in recovery and hopefully this will be soon,” Chinwada said.

“As is the case elsewhere where governments are putting in measures to help stimulate their economies, we hope that our government will also work with industry to determine ways in which government policy can help relieve the stress arising from the effects of Covid-19.

“Meanwhile, the sector is very alert to the risk of Covid-19 and players have scaled up on practices that ensure that hotels remain safe places for visitors, especially in the area of hygiene.”

The immigration department has also recorded a 30% drop in arrivals as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.“As we speak, we are sitting on 30% and as of yesterday (Tuesday) more than 3 000 arrived in the country which was a drop from our usual days,” immigration department head Evans Siziba told journalists during a tour of the Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare.