ZIMBABWE’S tourism industry has recovered by healthy margins in the past two months underpinned by an aggressive domestic market, helping it overcome pandemic setbacks that ended with 9 000 job cuts, an industry executive said.
In an interview with businessdigest, Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) president Farai Chimba warned that the effects of the labour bloodbath would be felt over many years as some exits would be “permanent”.
However, he said the future was positive, especially if the government intervenes with a mix of grants and cheap loans to accelerate the recovery process.
He spoke as new Finance ministry data showed on Wednesday Zimbabwe lifted average hotel room occupancy rate to 34% during the first quarter from 14% during the same period last year.
It was one of the most aggressive recoveries since nations began relaxing travel curbs last year, but it fell short of downturns in arrivals of up to 90% recorded as Covid-19 shook markets in 2020.
The ministry said international arrivals stood at 126 955 during the period, “an improvement when compared to the same period last year”.
Of the 126 955, about 62,7% were African arrivals, while 20,9% landed from Europe.
The HAZ president said he was confident the industry had built stronger foundations for recovery.
“We are happy with the progress so far made in the recovery process,” Chimba told businessdigest. “The domestic market remains strong. City and country hotels have posted above 60% occupancy rates.
“Resorts, while lagging behind, have seen an upswing since April after the opening of borders and easing of entry requirements for vaccinated travellers.
“It is estimated that over 9 000 jobs were lost in the sector (at the height of the pandemic), with most leaving the industry permanently.”
Decisions by governments at the height of the Covid-19 scourge to ground airlines and restrict international travel pushed foreign tourist arrivals into Zimbabwe down by 90% in 2020 — the biggest plunge in 40 years — before more write-downs shook the market last year.
The sector’s darkest patch almost grounded the economy after losing US$1 billion in potential revenue during the first year of the outbreak.
“A financing cocktail is needed that gives lower interest rates along with grants and concessions on some of the licences and statutory obligations that haunt the industry among a few,” Chimba said.
“As global travel resumes, key travel destinations include Africa. In Africa, we must be geared up for new travel trends. We have no doubt we can achieve the accelerated growth that comes with it with sound marketing and promotional initiatives on the global and regional markets. There are immediate and long-term issues that need to be attended to.
“Some of the key ones are rebuilding the sector out of Covid-19. We must look at what resources are available to retool and uplift the national product; human capital capacity building is also key in driving value for stakeholders in our sector,” he added.