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Resorts struggle under new pandemic regime

FIDELITY MHLANGA

ZIMBABWE’S prime tourist destinations have remained in intensive care over a month after the government lifted Covid-19 induced lockdowns to save the economy,industry leaders said this week, predicting that recovery may only be achieved after four years. However, this would depend on the efficiency of worldwide vaccination campaigns, as governments in most source markets are still edgy about reopening international travel.

Last week, the African Development Bank said tourism-dependent African economies experienced the sharpest gross domestic product decline of 11,5% in 2020.  The lender projected that these economies would rebound by 6,8% this year.

But in an interview with businessdigest, Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe president Clive Chinwada said the sector remained under pressure with foreign arrivals still restricted by border closures and tighter Covid-19 restrictions compared to competing regional destinations.

He said demand remained depressed in resorts which are popular with foreign tourists, although recovery signs were showing in domestic tourism.

“We are still in very deep waters as a sector. There is still virtually nothing happening in Victoria Falls, our hub for tourism and hospitality and operators there are on the brink,” Chinwada said.

“However, when we look at cities and domestic tourism-dependent destinations, business is starting to pick up.”

He said Covid-19 protocols were not yet standardised across borders, which he pointed out dented travel confidence.

“Zimbabwe has 48 hours validity on PCR (polymerase chain reaction) yet the rest of the world is on a minimum of 72 hours. This renders Zimbabwe’s protocols in this regard unfavourable,”  Chinwada said.

“Zimbabwe’s land borders remain closed. Visitors tend to want to travel to more than one destination. Visitors to Victoria Falls would also want to experience either Livingstone in Zambia or Chobe in Botswana. This is currently impossible. As a result, with exception of essential travel, there is still limited inbound travel.”

He said business travel and workshops, which were now shaping up, were currently driving demand.  However, travel was still confined to essential travel.

His comments underlined the depth of the crisis that confronts hotels, airlines and other tour operators under a global economy that has been grounded by the surge in Covid-19 infections and deaths.

“Last year, the government promised to allocate the industry ZW$500 million (about US$6 million), which was part of a bigger Covid-19 relief package for productive sectors announced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in May. Release of the money has been slow,” Chinwada said.

He said there was still uncertainty over the outlook.

“The second wave of Covid-19 taught us that until the world has tamed the pandemic, it is difficult to say what the future holds. All I can say is that full recovery of the sector has been given two to four year timelines. We are still far from overcoming,” Chinwada said.

From March last year, terrified governments grounded international flights to prevent contagion as Covid-19 spiralled out of control. But the full wrath of the global economic shutdowns was felt hardest in tourism-dependent economies like Zimbabwe, which saw operators winding down, sending staff home and losing US$1 billion in potential revenue in the process.

The tourism industry generates about US$2 billion for Zimbabwe’s economy yearly. Foreign tourist arrivals plummeted by 90% between January and October, the sharpest downturn in 40 years.

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