Charles Mlambo, a local businessman, will forever rue the decision he made on May 15 2004.
It was on this date that Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, announced the 2010 soccer World Cup would, for the first time, be held in Africa.
At a Press conference in Zurich, Switzerland, Blatter announced to the world that South Africa had won the bid to host the first-ever World Cup edition on the African continent.
The announcement was, according to economists, going to bring business opportunities, not only to South Africa but also to neighbouring countries.
Seizing the opportunity to make money, Mlambo decided on that date to convert his Avondale home into an upmarket lodge.
Borrowing money from a local bank, the businessman invested a fortune as he anticipated handsome returns.
Sadly, that was not to be and, two years after the premier football tournament was held, Mlambo’s investment has largely remained a white elephant.
With debtors hard on his heels, the businessman will forever regret the decision that he made on that fateful day.
Mlambo is, however, not the only businessman in this predicament.
While hoteliers and tour operators were busy sprucing up their operations, some enterprising home owners were busy turning their homes into lodges and guest houses in anticipation of the flood of visitors to the country.
Many homes in suburbs such as Avondale, Eastlea, Belvedere and Hatfield, among many others, were soon converted into overnight rest havens.
However, after the expected glut of tourists failed to materialise, the businesspeople were left with thousands of dollars worth of investment and no practical way to recoup their financial outlay.
As economic realities are beginning to bite, the lodge and guest house owners are being forced to drift from their original business models, which was to provide overnight accommodation.
They have shifted their focus and have since adapted to the obtaining economic realities.
“Business has been tough the last few years and most people in the industry have had to shift their focus from just providing overnight rest havens to other lucrative ventures,” said Mr Langton Chipere, secretary for the Indigenous Hospitality Industry Operators’ Association.
“Since tourist arrivals have remained depressed, we have had to adapt to the changing environment. However, our core business has remained that of providing temporary accommodation and other related services.”
Some of the lodges and guest houses that opened prior to the football extravaganza in South Africa have since closed shop and the ones that are still operating are adopting new innovative survival innovations.
While a few have resorted to renting out part of the premises to tenants, others have been turned into office blocks, crèches, beauty parlours and as venues for corporate events and weddings.
This has raised the question of the legality of such operations given that some of the lodges’ licences do not allow for the provision of such services.
Shockingly, some lodges, especially in the city’s infamous red-light districts, such as the Avenues area and parts of Rotten Row, have risen to notoriety for operating as lodges-cum-brothels.
Earlier this year, the Harare City Council moved a motion to shut down lodges operating in some residential areas following a public outcry by residents that their operations were exposing children to bad morals.
Contributing to a debate over the issues of lodges turning into brothels during a full council meeting, former councillor for Ward 12 Mr Warship Dumba urged council to withdraw the lodges’ operating licences.
“The lodges that were licensed in anticipation of large volumes of people coming during the World Cup have now been turned into brothels.
“Brothels are morally wrong and unacceptable to society and they have to be closed,” he said.
Investigations by The Sunday Mail In-Depth revealed that some of the lodges provide affordable beds for day-time “short-time” sessions for as little as US$5 an hour.
Sex workers who openly parade their “wares” in broad daylight in the Avenues are said to pay for a day’s use of the room before going out to solicit customers.
They will then recover the money they pay for the rooms after servicing their sex-starved patrons.
The practice is also common at lodges that are located close to popular nightclubs and bars.
Today, questions are being raised over the legality of such adaptive measures being used in an industry widely considered a cog of the greater tourism matrix.
Discussions between this reporter and people involved in the industry, who preferred anonymity, show that most of the lodges are immersed in a deep liquidity crisis and are struggling to meet the basic requirements for operations set by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA).
The ZTA has strict minimum health, sanitary and service-related stipulations that regulate licensing of industry players.
Before a licence is granted, the authority requires proof that the operator meets its basic hygiene requirements as well as photographs of the lodges or guest houses’ kitchen, bedrooms, lounge, bathroom and garden.
The authority’s industry and management division will then deliberate on whether to grant or cancel the licence.
It will also grade the venture according to set-down rules.
A joint clampdown operation by ZTA and the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare a few years ago resulted in the closure of several lodges located in the Avenues, Mount Pleasant, Avondale and Eastlea
areas which had failed to meet the health stipulations.
ZTA spokesperson Mr Sugar Chagonda said the authority would force the closure of the lodges operating outside the confines of the law.
He said all the operators have to operate within the standards set by the responsible authorities.
“As ZTA we are always encouraging all operators to do their best to adhere to the standards stated on their licences,” he said.
“We will only close down the places as a last resort since it is our mandate to develop tourism and it will not be in the best interest of the industry if we start closing down lodges.
“We also encourage the public to report places that are operating as brothels to either the police or to the ZTA.”
With yet another influx of foreigners expected in the country during and after the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly in Victoria Falls next year, there is already an air of euphoria among enterprising Zimbabweans who are angling to benefit from the mega tourism event.
Whether they will indeed benefit or not remains to be seen but others are already investing a lot in preparation for the anticipated influx.
Will the UNWTO conference, like the World Cup before it, plunge businesspeople into financial crisis or will it buck the trend and boost local operators?