BY KUDZAI KUWAZA
ZIMBABWE’S hunting industry will rebound by 52% this year, driven by favourable Covid-19 ratings on the international markets, according to Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (Soaz) chairman, Emmanuel Fundira.
He said the sector was expecting to gain higher notches on pandemic ratings following the ongoing vaccination programme, which has seen thousands of people receive their jabs.
Fundira said recovery will also be driven by the return of long-haul flights, which received a boost this week when the International Finance Corporation (IFC) undertook to work with Zimbabwe to attract airlines back to Victoria Falls.
After grounding economies last year, governments have been easing worldwide hard lockdowns to save faltering economies.
“We have not recovered 100% yet but I expect our recovery for this year to be between 50-52%,” Fundira told businessdigest.
He said the vaccination programme had revived hopes that Zimbabwe would be removed from the red zone to amber, giving hunters confidence to troop back.
“Once we are reviewed from red to amber we should be able to conduct business and we will be able to put something on the table,” Fundira added.
“Last year was a total bloodbath, but things are looking up. We are at the preparation stage and getting ready for the influx of clients eager to escape from the lockdown to travel,” he added.
The hunting season starts in May every year.
In the absence of scheduled flights, arrivals were mostly from clients with private jets.
But Fundira said their numbers were not enough to sustain operations.
Under the recovery strategy announced on Monday involving multiple agencies, the IFC will champion a campaign to drive international airlines back into Victoria Falls, whose world class airport spent most of last year almost deserted as the pandemic disrupted global arrivals.
The South-Africa-based Trade and Investment Promotion Agency will be among other organisations that will play a key role to help the government conduct data analysis and facilitate dialogue with airlines to reposition the prime resort back to its status as a regional tourism and air transport hub.
The parties agreed to work with the Government of Zimbabwe to rebuild thousands of jobs that were lost in Victoria Falls as the pandemic tore through southern Africa, frustrating efforts to attract tourists, almost turning the resort town into a graveyard of tourism empires.
British Airways and Emirates have returned to Zimbabwe while domestic carriers — Air Zimbabwe and Fastjet — are also back on their routes.
But experts said competitiveness would be boosted by more flights.
“With the right support, Victoria Falls can become a truly competitive tourism entry point for the region,” Adamou Labara, IFC’s country manager for eSwatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe,” said on Monday.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the safari sector had been on the rebound after the United States’ Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) lifted the ivory ban on Zimbabwe which it imposed in 2014.
The USFWS had suspended imports of spot-hunted African elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe, arguing that there had been a significant decline in the population of elephants in both countries.
The sector was also hard hit by the tightening of regulations since the killing of the famous lion, Cecil, in 2015 and negative perceptions against the country prompted by allegations of human rights violations.