The Sunday Mail
Tourism is recognised as one of the pillars anchoring the country’s economic growth. According to Finance and Economic Development Minister Mthuli Ncube in his 2020 National Budget Statement, the sector has continued on a positive trajectory as evidenced by tourist arrivals that grew from 1,8 million in 2013, to 2,5 million in 2018. It is expected that tourist arrivals will marginally increase to 2,7 million in 2019, irrespective of the prevailing macroeconomic environment.
In order for the sector to achieve its set priorities, the 2020 Budget allocated ZWL$291 million to the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry.
Our Business Reporter Chipo Chaumba (CC) recently met up with Zimbabwe Tourism Authority acting chief executive officer Mr Givemore Chidzidzi (GC) to talk about ZTA’s activities to uplift the tourism sector
CC: As the ZTA, what are you doing in growing and developing the tourism sector?
GC: Growing and developing the tourism sector is really not just a ZTA function. There are so many things that are required when growing and developing the tourism sector. Our role mainly as ZTA is to market and promote this destination (Zimbabwe) as a destination of choice in the different markets both locally and internationally, and you can also say regionally. So we work as a joint effort with other players and stakeholders in terms of trying to make sure that our tourism grows and brings about the desired results.
So first and foremost, we have to work together as a team with other partners and stakeholders. We have issues to do with facilitation of visas which also needs to be looked at and then also the market that needs to be developed in Zimbabwe.
We also need to be looking at the supply side because when you have traffic coming into your country, you need to be able to service that traffic. If you generate interests locally, you need to be able to cater for that demand you create. So we have to look at promoting investment into the tourism industry in terms of new products and new activities and facilities. As ZTA, our role is to make sure we coordinate the efforts of everyone with the ultimate goal of positioning Zimbabwe as a must visit destination.
CC: What is the state of the tourism sector in Zimbabwe in terms of arrivals, occupancy levels, and pricing of services?
GC: In terms of arrivals right now, as we are talking, we don’t have the whole picture for 2019, but the first nine months really showed a bit of stagnation in terms of visit arrivals even in terms of tourism receipts. We are eagerly waiting for the final figure of the complete year, the figures are still being computed and we don’t have them yet and we are hopeful that the figures will be pleasing to us. But for the first nine months, like I said, we suffered a bit of a knock in a lot of our markets.
In terms of occupancy levels, they have remained depressed in the last years. We are always hovering between 50 and 55 percent in terms of hotel occupancy and we are still around that area. I think if you look at the utilisation of our hotels, there is a very good mix in terms of foreign and local tourists. When you go to Victoria Falls, it’s more foreign arrivals than locals and when you go to other parts, it’s more local arrivals than foreign. At the end of the day, there is some compensation where there is a decline in terms of foreign arrivals. So there is in bit more activity in terms of domestic travel. Our hotel occupancy statistics are the same as we had in the previous year.
Then in terms of pricing of services in the sector, this is one area where we need a lot of time and a lot of analysis. There are so many schools of thought and so many opinions about pricing in the tourism sector. But I think what one needs to understand about the tourism sector is that tourism is not a homogenous product, and tourism services are not homogenous products.
People at times are very fond of comparing this and that, comparing prices and star rating, to, say, a five-star in Zimbabwe against a five- star in Botswana. But for starters, those five stars that are being compared are not the same anyway. So in terms of pricing in the tourism sector, it’s a very contentious issue. There is a lot of price differentiation in the tourism industry based on seasons, booking, period of booking, quantities of bookings.
If we are talking about accommodation and activities, are they high-risk or low-risk activities. Therefore, the pricing in the tourism sector is a complex matter. For example, pricing of air services, if a plane is flying from Harare to Dubai, you will be very lucky to find two people who have paid the same fare.
The differences come from the period during which they booked, how they booked and whether it was online. Did you walk in, or did you go through an agent, did you benefit from some special offer? So this is how the pricing in the tourism sector is done.
CC: Are you happy with the current legislation, in particular with regards to how to price or handle foreign currency?
GC: The Statutory Instrument has had a significant impact. When people hear that you cannot pay in foreign currency in Zimbabwe, they think that they can’t come here. When foreigners go to a foreign country, of necessity they need to have foreign currency to pay for the services. So now that’s the issue that needs to be unpacked. Our task at hand is to try and unpack and interpret that piece of legislation to the users of tourist facilities.
I think the foreigners coming to Zimbabwe would not really be affected by that issue because it is common knowledge that when foreigners come to Zimbabwe, they have foreign currency. When they transact in the country, they transact using their credit cards and foreign plastic money. That foreign plastic money is readily accepted within the country, so any designated tourist facility in Zimbabwe readily accepts foreign currency payments.
Talking about the payment systems and so on, designated tourists’ facilities in the event that they are collecting any payment of their goods and services in local currency, there must be parity that is visible between what they are charging in foreign currency and what they are charging in local currency, there shouldn’t be a discrepancy. So if someone is paying for something, let’s say a foreigner, and they are paying for their accommodation, maybe it’s US$20, what we actually see is the equivalent exchange rate of the local interbank cross rate. The worst case is that it must be equated to the interbank rate and the best case obviously, whoever is paying in local currency must enjoy a benefit, that is what we are actually urging our operators to do.
Then the issue of the legislation, Government has come up with incentives for the tourism industry, statutory instruments which allow duty-free importation of certain goods for use in the tourism industry. That has actually pushed the tourism industry and development in the sector. Right now we are looking at the Victoria Falls, close to 10 new hotels that are being developed in Victoria Falls are at various stages of development and others are opening soon. There are new places that are being opened in terms of the visitor activities. In terms of provisions of motor vehicles in the tourism industry, tour and offering operators, touring coaches are all benefiting from the new legislation that is giving incentives to the tourism sector.
CC: In which areas within the sector are you seeing opportunities for growth?
GC: The tourism sector has vast opportunities. Growth is really across all areas in the tourism sector, from travel agency, tour operations, food and beverages, accommodation. But I see a lot of opportunities in the products, we really need to innovate and come up with new products for attraction. Think of Lake Mutarazi Skywalk, the zip line in the Eastern Highlands, we want to see more of such developments happening in the different parts of the country. We are also looking at provision of accommodation.
This is one thing we need to continue hammering to everyone who really wants to talk about tourism and the prices in tourism, growing the tourism sector. We don’t have enough hotel rooms in Zimbabwe, we don’t have the distribution of hotels across the various categories of accommodation because accommodation is from a low cost to the exclusive high value accommodation. There must be a very normal distribution of capacity across all those sectors.
Then the transport sector itself, if you want to hire a car, the car hiring facilities in Zimbabwe leaves quite a lot to be desired. We need people to come in and fill those gaps in terms of providing maybe newer modern state-of-the-art vehicles to our visitors. When we come to the food and beverages and night life in Zimbabwe, there is need for more upmarket spots, especially in Victoria Falls. People say it’s a bit boring there, we need investment in those areas and then restaurants.
There is also the availability of specialised restaurants in Harare and Bulawayo. If you want to go for lunch, it’s almost the same. We need innovators in that area, we need new products and there is a lot of opportunities. Tourism is all about marketing. People need to make noise and promote and push and attract business, we don’t have business before you have got the facility. You cannot have people waiting for you to get a speciality sea food restaurant. You develop one and excite people. I think that is where tourism now becomes very special in terms of its incentives. You need special facilities for investment in the tourism sector. The banking sector can partner the Government. They need to take into consideration the fact that tourism is not a sector where you just wake up with demand and make money, or make profit and start paying back the loan.
CC: What would you say are the biggest challenges for the tourism sector in Zimbabwe? How are you planning to deal with the challenges?
GC: Tourism is an image industry, so we sell the image of the destination and the biggest challenge is to get a positive image and positive perceptions out there. This is the main focus of our activities there, to make sure that we could get a positive image. It’s not a ZTA responsibility alone because projecting a positive image for a destination is everyone’s baby. Every person wherever they are, whatever they do, what actions they take, what they deliver and don’t deliver impact on the image of the destination. That is the single biggest challenge, dealing with the image of the destination and we are more than ready to do that. We are engaging, lobbying, talking to the relevant parties. We are making sure that we spread the good news about Zimbabwe and the positives about Zimbabwe. Now the most important thing is that every citizen of Zimbabwe plays their part in creating a good perception of the country.
CC: Is there likely going to be a change in terms of international arrivals and domestic tourism activities?
GC: International arrivals are the reason why you find us unable to rest. Our thrust is to arrest the decline and swing it around. We are going to be really aggressive, the aim is to turn the curve around. On the domestic front, it depends on the economy of the country. Domestic tourism is out there, people are finding it difficult to make ends meet. Tourism relies on freely disposable income, and it’s a bit depressed right now, therefore our tourism activities are currently suppressed.