Arrivals: Figures don’t lie

For a people who have been fed a diet of politics and promises, some of which have failed to materialise over the years, perhaps it is only normal to be heavily sceptical.

Since the inauguration of President Mnangagwa on November 24, the new political administration has signalled a shift from politics to economics in order to materially improve the living conditions of Zimbabweans. But is this mere rhetoric, or things are really changing for the better?

As the American writer Samuel Clemens – better known as Mark Twain – often said “figures don’t lie”, it might be important to interrogate this question through statistical scrutiny.

So far, there have been quite noticeable trends in tourism, mining and manufacturing, but more so in tourism.

Remarkable growth

Since the beginning of the year, the tourism sector, which market watchers often say is a low-hanging fruit on account on its ability to instantaneously respond to policies, has registered marked and tremendous growth, particularly in the resort town of Victoria Falls.

In a recent Press release, Africa Albida Tourism (AAT)’s chief executive officer Mr Ross Kennedy indicated that measurements across 10 hotels in the resort town showed that hotel occupancy has risen by more than 13 percent, with 5 000 additional rooms having been booked in the three months to March, compared to the same period a year ago.

Border areas around Victoria Falls have also recorded a 30 percent increase, or 87 000 more people than last year.

Revenues are reportedly up 25 percent, and so too is revenue per available room (RevPAR) — a key measure of profitability in the sector — which has risen by 11 percent.

RevPAR is calculated by dividing the hotel room’s revenue by available rooms.

Overall, Victoria Falls is forecast to be a “one-season destination”, which experiences a high season throughout the year.

The trend has also spilled over to nearby Hwange National Park, as it is reportedly experiencing “significant growth” and “new investment”.

“There are four or five new camps and lodges that have opened or are about to open in the Hwange area, as well as two or three new investors into existing national parks’ concessions,” Mr Kennedy said.

“On the back of this very clear demand for Victoria Falls and the region, airlines such as SA Airlink are increasing capacity on the Cape Town-Victoria Falls route from July 2018.”

AAT, which also has a portfolio of properties such as Victoria Falls Safari Club, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Victoria Falls Safari Suites and Lokuthula Lodges in Victoria Falls, recently completed a $600 000 upgrade of Victoria Falls Safari Club to cater for its growing clientele.

It is believed that interest has grown for Matopos, Mana Pools and Kariba as well, although access remains a major challenge for potential visitors.

But that there has been an up-tick in arrivals and burgeoning business in the sector does not mean that this can be traced to the new political administration. Or can it?

In a presentation at the Africa Indaba Travel and Tourism Expo in Durban, South Africa, on May 10, Mr Kennedy said the encouraging trend has been prompted by the new Government’s re-engagement drive.

“There are now 55 scheduled flights from Victoria Falls each month. If you ask me what was there last year, you get nothing near half of that. Try and link this to the rest of the country and see the multiplier effect.

“Our industry is driven by perception. One man went to Davos (President Mnangagwa) and things changed. We expect more to happen this year,’’ he said.

At the same meeting in South Africa, Mr Tendai Madzivanyika, Rainbow Tourism Group (RTG)’s chief executive, similarly noted that Government’s re-engagement efforts are bearing fruit.

“There is serious recognition of the new Government’s re-engagement efforts by the international community. Indeed the efforts are bearing fruit. In the quarter of this year alone, our hotel occupancy increased by 20 percent.

“Where in the world have you seen such phenomenal growth in four months? It can only be in Zimbabwe. We all now have hope. Hope makes you face up and the moment you face up, you are going forward,” he added.

Victoria Falls is already fully booked for September and October, and this is expected to carry on into the future, as RwandAir began operating the Cape Town to Victoria Falls route on Wednesday. The inaugural flight was oversubscribed.

Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) says it is inundated with enquiries, especially from tourists that are failing to make bookings for September and October.

Government believes that a combination of re-engagement efforts and national rebranding will naturally rehabilitate the local economy.

Government representatives have been to New York (United States of America), Brussels (Belgium) and the UK.

In addition, a refreshing Zimbabwean story has also taken up space on leading global magazines such as TIME, Forbes Africa, influential global media outlets such Financial Times and Bloomberg.

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