The Sunday Mail
Senior Business Reporter
Occupancy at Victoria Falls hotels averaged 75 percent during the festive season and could have been much higher without travel restrictions, as this negatively impacted on mobility, industry officials say.
Tourism is one of the sectors most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, negatively impacting economies, livelihoods, public services and opportunities normally associated with travel and tourism globally.
Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) Matabeleland chair Mr Anald Musonza told The Sunday Mail Business that the festive season cushioned the tourism sector from what could have been a potentially devastating blow.
During the first six months of last year, foreign arrivals slowed 72 percent, which was the lowest in three decades.
According to the latest World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) data, international tourist arrivals are expected to remain at 70-75 percent below 2019 levels.
Notably, international travellers and the Diaspora traffic remained largely subdued due to the 10-day quarantine requirements, which compel visitors to isolate before they are free to mix and mingle.
“The added requirements to also test at the airport, whether one has a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test or not, affected a lot of potential visitors who eventually cancelled en masse,” he said.
“The efforts to lure domestic tourists have started yielding results as we had more and more of our bookings from locals from Bulawayo, Gweru and Harare who came to our resort city. The whole resort was quite busy for 10 days, with an average occupancy of about 75 percent.”
One of the major hospitality industry players, African Sun, said recently in its financials “domestic travel would continue to drive the economy” in the short term.
The fall in Covid-19 cases across the globe by mid-2021, the company added, led to a partial return to normalcy in key source markets like the UK and the United States of America.
Mr Musonza said the revival of the domestic tourism industry would be much faster if some of the travel restrictions were relaxed as most of the source markets had removed the country from their red lists.
For instance, Britain removed all 11 countries from the UK’s travel red list mid-December.
Zimbabwe, along with fellow regional countries Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, were removed from that list.
The red list was reintroduced in late November as a precaution after the emergence of and surge in infections from the Omicron variant.
“All we need to do is to remove our own restrictions in quarantine requirements and align the PCR test to the regional requirements of 72 hours or longer,” he said.
Industry players, however, are worried occupancy levels would likely drop significantly.
For now, experts say focus should be on ensuring domestic tourism reaches its full potential while waiting for travel restrictions on visitors to be eased.
“The months of January to March are ‘dead’, with single-digit average occupancy under 10 percent. We anticipate a change of fortunes this year as more and more people have experienced fatigue with lockdowns and the pent-up demand is now for almost two years of lack of international travel,” he added.
“We foresee more and more people accepting the need to work around
Covid-19 pandemic and still travel in a safe way. We are lucky in Destination Zimbabwe that we have so many open spaces, great nature and facilities that allow people to travel in safe bubbles as families or groups of friends.”
The most important thing for the long-term welfare of the local business sector depends on a successful vaccination campaign and a return to normalcy.
Destination Victoria Falls has the highest vaccination uptake numbers, with over 90 percent of people fully vaccinated and ready to host tourists.
Victoria Falls, which was declared a tourism Special Economic Zone (SEZ) by the Government, has eight hotels and 45 lodges with a combined capacity of about 3 800 beds.
Under the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy-Vision 2025, the Government is targeting to increase tourist arrivals to over 5,5 million by 2023, as well as grow tourism receipts from US$1 billion in 2017 to US$3,5 billion.