The Sunday Mail
Zimbabwe’s tourism industry experienced a harsh two years of pounding by Covid-19 pandemic, leaving the sector virtually on the jaws of death, but was saved by domestic tourists who drove business.
Hotel occupation in the past two years averaged around 23 percent outside cities and 32 percent in cities, with the latter driven by Government and private sector workshops.
Tourism Business Council chairman, Mr Paul Matamisa said; “There definitely has been improvement in business since the lockdown was relaxed and recovery is on the way. Local business continues to outpace foreign tourists and they have supported mostly businesses in cities like Harare and Bulawayo.”
Despite growing domestic tourism business, questions have continued to be asked on whether the pricing of the industry is affordable to an average family in the country. The industry has defended their pricing saying a lot of factors have driven prices up.
Mr Matamisa said; “We appreciate domestic tourism and we love it if our citizens experience the nature of this country, but at the end of the day we have businesses to run with expenses we need to meet.”
The chairperson alluded to a difference in cost structure as the reason why they seem to be a bit higher than counterparts in the region.
“We are running an expensive business and we are experiencing extra costs which are making our packages cost the way they are. Fuel prices have been on the rise for a while now and even before this year, they were higher than that of the region and we had to and still running some parts of the day on generators, which are expensive,” Mr Matamisa said.
Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) Victoria Falls chapter chairperson, Arnold Musonza, told the Sunday Mail that the past two years were quite unique due to Covid-19 induced lockdowns which brought travel restrictions.
Mr Musonza disputed that the industry was not doing enough to support domestic tourism.
“The major drivers of this domestic tourism was obviously that all the operators had to go into special packages and discounts that allowed a lot of the local market to travel at reduced prices and reduced rates across board,” he said.
“The reductions were as low as 50 percent and as high as 70-80 percent of our normal rates which was well appreciated by the local market as the new norm dictates we had to re-engineer our product offerings to make sure we cater for them.”
Lower end hotels have continued to enjoy good business as the prices have become normal to domestic travelers.
“I have been quite surprised by the occupation rates particularly of the low end facilities.
‘‘At the Victoria Falls for example the lower end hotels charging US$50 — US$100 a night are in fact always quite full,” Mr Musonza said.
In 2019, tourist arrivals to Zimbabwe dropped by 11 percent to 2,3 million visitors. The sector’s earnings followed suit, declining 10 percent to US$1,25 billion.
In 2020, Zimbabwe’s ENVIRONMENT, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndhlovu, projected revenue losses of up to U$1 billion in the country’s tourism industry, owing to travel restrictions.
The sector continued to suffer due to the Covid-19 pandemic as tourist arrivals to Zimbabwe declined by 40 percent to 375 799 in 2021.
International tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2022 were up 93 percent as the country loosened up its lockdown regulations.
Arrivals in the first quarter reportedly increased to 126 955 from 65 882 during
the same period in 2021 and 2020 respectively.
Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, told a post-cabinet media briefing in March that; “Tourism was adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years, resulting in the loss of 9,000 jobs and closure of 37 facilities.”
However, there has been notable progress in reviving the sector. The Government has implemented a recovery and growth strategy launched in 2020, seeking to
grow the tourism industry to US$5 billion by 2025.
Mr Matamisa said, the Government needs to be honour their commitments as the sector has not seen the rescue package that was announced by Treasury at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He added that the revival packages would have helped the industry to also lower packages as domestic tourism was the breadwinner.
In terms of investment in the industry, there were inquiries in Davos, Switzerland about the sector and the industry hopes something will build on from them as they want business to grow.
Investments in the tourism sector grew from US$86 million in 2020 to US$142 million last year, boosted by a raft of
Government investment promotion measures.