BY KUDZAI KUWAZA
ZIMBABWE’s tourism sector is slowly trudging back to life following a year of Covid-19 induced volatilities that hammered arrivals and pushed occupancy levels down, a senior sector executive said this week.
Tourism, which generates about US$2 billion annually, was one of the sectors worst hit by the pandemic that broke out in 2020, with Zimbabwe suffering a 90% plunge in arrivals between March and October, one of the sharpest slowdowns in 40 years.
Under a ZW$18 billion (about US$220 million) announced by government in March to calm down Covid-19 induced volatilities, tourism was allocated ZW$500 million (about US$6,1 million) to help hotels and other operators ride out the crisis.
Not much of this funding has been released to operators, because banks have largely shunned the broke government’s guarantees issued to bank corporate applications for bailouts.
But this week, Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe chief executive officer, Paul Matamisa told businessdigest this week that although the headwinds were yet to fizzle out, the oceans were clearing out and ongoing interventions to stem the crisis had ignited hopes of a quicker recovery than previously expected.
“Business is still very slow because land borders are not fully operational and movement remains restricted,” Matamisa said.
“What we have seen, however, is the resumption of conferencing and seminars and I hope that this trend continues. Occupancy of our hotels is hovering between 20% and 30%, but with more countries opening up due to Covid-19 vaccinations, we could occupancy rates may go up to 50% or thereabouts,” he said.
Matamisa said reports that the resort city of Victoria Falls had achieved herd immunity had boosted market confidence.
He however, said the drive to promote domestic tourism had been crippled by the dwindling disposable incomes for most Zimbabweans .
“Domestic Tourism has been affected by low disposable incomes. The will might be there for people to travel but if it is not matched with what is in the pocket then it will not work,” Matamisa pointed out.
“We need as a country to look at ways of bringing up people’s salaries. Companies could also incentivise workers through giving them holiday packages to promote domestic tourism.”
A Victoria Falls hotelier told businessdigest revealed that business was very low is in the resort town but pointed out that with several airlines about to resume flights, business could soon pick up.
“There is the possibility of airlines such as Lufthansa resuming flights to the country soon. If the skies continue to open up, this will help the tourism sector,” he said.
In its financial results for the year ended December 31 2020, Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE)- listed leisure chain, Rainbow Tourism Group occupancy rates fell to 26% from 47% in 2019. Listed hotelier, African Sun limited reported in its financial results for the first half of 2020 that occupancy dropped to 22% compared to 45% recorded in the same period last year.