Hotel occupancy plunges

THE covid-19 pandemic has engulfed the tourism sector, resulting in hotel occupancy plummeting below 20%, amid fears that some operators would be forced out of business, businessdigest has established.

By Kudzai Kuwaza

To avert a devastating hit, the government has convened crisis meetings with operators this week.

The respiratory disease has infected more than 390 000 people globally with more than 21 000 deaths. On Monday this week, Zimbabwe recorded its first fatality from the disease, journalist Zororo Makamba.

The pandemic has resulted in hotel and flight cancellations worldwide and Zimbabwe has not been spared the devastating impact of covid-19.

Tourism minister Mangaliso Ndlovu told businessdigest this week that the fallout from the covid-19 pandemic has crippled the tourism sector.

“A lot of hotels are operating below 20%. The situation is really bad,” Ndlovu said. “There are high prospects of closure of companies, in some cases, due to failure to pay rentals because of lack of business.”

Ndlovu pointed out that the low volumes of business due to covid-19 could result in the substantial loss of jobs in the sector.

Ndlovu said he was scheduled to meet tourism players in Harare and Bulawayo this week to discuss the coronavirus crisis that has nearly grounded the tourism sector to a halt at a time the country is in desperate need of foreign currency generated by the sector.

However, the tourism minister said he has been impressed by the precautionary measures being taken by tourism operators to ensure good hygiene and increase awareness of the scourge.

A hotelier in Victoria Falls painted a grim picture of the impact covid-19 has had on the resort town.

“It has been a major challenge for us as planes have either suspended flights or reduced their frequency in coming to the Falls so this reduces the total number of inbound tourists,” the hotelier said. “We have never seen anything like this. Hotels are empty and tour operators do not have any tourists to take on the activities they offer. I went to the airport this week and I only saw one Fastjet plane. It is very worrisome.”

A survey by the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries on the impact of covid-19 found that airlines being grounded had reduced flights into Zimbabwe by 30%.

“Zimbabwe will lose tourism and hospitality receipts which are key to foreign currency supply. For instance, by the beginning of March 2020, flights into Zimbabwe had fallen by 30%, and this is before the lockdowns became worse around the world, with many countries completely shutting down their borders and banning any travel,” reads the report.

Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe chairperson Emmanuel Fundira said this year is a write-off for the sector as a result of cancellations in the wake of the pandemic.

“You do not have to be a rocket scientist to know what the impact has been given all the cancellations, it is a bloodbath,” Fundira said. ‘’It is a year which is a complete write off and we do not have anything coming from government.”

Fundira said they have come up with a paper to government proposing that they freeze rates as well as lease payments and concession fees. He added that they also propose that government place a waiver on forex payments made to safari operators which are in nostro accounts.

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