‘Promote domestic tourism’

BY FREEMAN MAKOPA

WENGAYI Nhau is an accomplished professional who has had wide and extensive experience in the tourism and hospitality sector. Zimbabwe Independent reporter Freeman Makopa (FM) caught up with Nhau to discuss his vision for the sector. Below are the excerpts of the interview:

FM : What’s your plan for the tourism industry and what are you targeting to achieve during your tenure

WN: My plans for tourism are not new  and I am not going to reinvent the sector per se. I believe mostly in teamwork. I believe in a coordinated approach to any issue regardless of circumstances, so in my view, we are simply going to follow up on my predecessor’s plans. We have presidents of the council who come in every two-year interval. Each president serves two years in the presidium as vice-president before assuming the presidency; each one does a minimum of four years in the pressidium.

This means  we are not going to make a lot of changes but we are simply going to follow up on the issues that are already on the table that we have been trying to pursue. The whole idea  is to bring back Zimbabwe to its old glory, where it was the destination of choice in the sub-region with direct continental links by air into major hubs.  We now have three international airports that can accommodate long haul aircrafts namely Robert Gabriel Mugabe in Harare, Joshua Nqbuko Nkomo in Bulawayo and the one in Victoria Falls.  All of them accommodate long haul aircraft although of different sizes.

My dream is to have a situation where we have longhaul traffic in Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls.

Victoria Falls is  primarily a leisure destination so leisure traffic should be directed into Victoria Falls so that it becomes the leisure destination for the sub-region. It should become the gateway into the Golden Triangle.

Harare being a business destination, most of the traffic there should mostly be business people, diplomats, people coming here for government engagements and other political players. Bulawayo is still a force to reckon when it comes to becoming an industrial hub.

Despite the challenges that Bulawayo has suffered in terms of disinvestment as a result of other issues, it still is a potential industrial  and commercial hub and by the way there are very good safari areas and we can still have a combination of commercial, business and leisure traffic into both Harare and Bulawayo so we then have three gateways in Zimbabwe and then the country will become a very good regional hub in terms of air connectivity.

The key thing when it comes to growing tourism is to maximise the number of stays per visit. Currently visitors to Victoria Falls spend an average three nights avisit.   Most of the products and services in Zimbabwe are offered as add-on options to destinations. This means we have been relegated to an add-on optional destination as opposed to being the main destination where people arrive. There is a lot of traffic to South Africa now .

You find a situation whereby OR Tambo is a business hub with a lot of leisure traffic as well and we have King Shaka International Airport in Durban also a leisure and business hub and we also have also Cape Town International Airport which has now primarily become a leisure destination.

What tourists and travellers want is to fly into one airport where they can experience the country by land as much as possible by moving from one destination to the other .

Tourists spend an average of 13 to 14 nights in South Africa while in Zimbabwe we are only doing three nights at maximum. When we talk of numbers we might be proud to have two million visitors but we must not stop at two million.  We must find out how much revenue those two million visitors  have brought.

Among the two million visitors that were recorded some of them were in transit and some of them were recorded on add-on and some of them were staying for three nights and there are what they call bed nights in the hospitality sector.  The more bed nights you have, the more revenue you get.

So the whole idea is to have a situation whereby we develop on a gradual basis and of course this is in consultation with the government and other key stakeholders. We will deliberately target one airport at a time. Once we are done with one airport, we move to the next one and there are a lot of things that attract airlines and these are things that are at policy level. So we come up with proposals and engage our key stakeholders including the government for policy interventions.

For aircraft to do a 10-hour flight they need 60 000 to 70 000 kg of fuel when it comes to aviation .They also need alternate fuel in case of emergency; they need fuel to divert to the next destination just in case anything goes wrong.

We also need service and engineering and this means jobs for the locals. For one long-haul aircraft 10 to 15 cleaners are required and the crew needs food and this means revenue for the host destination.

In terms of the crew, long haul aircraft the minimum number is 20 people and these do not share rooms.  If these come in, the host country is assured of 40 bed-nights and hence this gives revenue which will cater for other services. If crew members come, in this case we have two sets of crew members; one crew stays behind and spends nights resting waiting for the other crew to arrive. So attracting these long haul aircrafts benefits the tourism sector in a big way.

FM: What are some of the benefits of having Longhaul aircrafts?

WN: Having one or two long-haul aircraft also helps to transport cargo or vaccines in this time of Covid-19. But the  real deal is these will constitute a good approach to reviving tourism. Having long-haul traffic means it must be complemented by a vibrant domestic and regional feeder network and bear in mind no country has succeeded in its tourism approach without   the support of their national airline. I think AirZimbabwe must take a lead in developing the long-haul, regional and domestic network.  We now have protocols that allow what we call fifth freedom rights where foreign airlines operating into a given destination are given fifth freedom rights between two destinations.  This has allowed airlines to maximise in terms of their earnings and has enabled airlines to access untapped markets.

In terms of the policy framework to grow and enhance the air transport sector, the protocols are there and it’s  up to us to follow up on them . Coming to the national airline, we have the equipment for long-haul aircraft that are potentially serviceable to take the routes and other aircraft that are capable of taking international routes. We have everything, but it just takes someone to make the sacrifice and commitment because airlines by their nature are capital intensive so you would have to put in money first and the return on the investment will be tremendous.

FM: The sector has been hit hard by Covid-19, what measures are you taking to ensure you protect the sector?

WN: Countries have recorded and are still recording new cases. In my view this has become the new normal because we thought the first wave would be the end of it but we had the second and now the third, so there is what we call striking a balance between two extreme demanding circumstances. On one side we have  to save lives and on the other hand we need to save livelihoods.

When people stop going to work under lockdown it’s not like they have stopped eating, it’s not like they have stopped needing medication. So costs and financial demands will still be there regardless of circumstances. Whatever interventions we make, they must strike a balance between lives and livelihoods. People should be allowed to continue business in strict adherence of the Covid-19 protocols as opposed to locking them in houses. We will end up defeating the objectives that we are trying to achieve. Because we don’t know when it’s going to end.

We now have interventions such as social distancing, vaccination and washing of hands. So let’s use those and I’m happy the government has been doing a lot to ensure that people get vaccinated.

FM: Do you think we have what it takes to attract large numbers of tourists compared to other African countries?

WN: Countries like Mauritius depend on tourism as their foreign currency earner so tourism drives the Mauritian economy. But they do not have attractions close to what Zimbabwe has. The fastest growing economy today in Africa is Rwanda and they are doing it on the back of the tourism sector but they have got only gorillas in Rwanda and few scenic attractions. If we are to compare what Rwanda and Mauritius have and what Zimbabwe has, Zimbabwe has much more to offer as a destination but ask yourself why we have more traffic in Mauritius than Zimbabwe.

It is  because of the interventions that we put in. We have Kariba which is a potential marine destination where people could come in for motorsports, for houseboats and for gameparks. There is Matusadonha; there is Kariba National Park; and there is also Mana Pools, a world class gamepark. But there is not a single flight between Harare and Kariba. It’s a potential fishing destination for sport as well as commercial activities .

The same applies to Hwange National Park, the prime wildlife destination of the region. We have got facilities there that are struggling to at least stay afloat. The key and backbone of any tourism sector to sustain itself is through domestic tourism. Any country that has over 50% of its tourism being domestic tourism will not suffer as a result of what it went through.

What I am saying is if we had a 50% domestic tourism market share in Zimbabwe, we would have continued operating while waiting for the international community to open the skies, but we have not done enough in my view to promote domestic tourism. Yes we are now promoting and encouraging domestic tourism and one of our major focus is to try as much as possible to promote domestic tourism and having local airlines servicing domestic destinations.