ZIMBABWE’S tourism sector, as with many industries, is slowly staggering to a new-normal after a few tumultuous months of uncertainty.
The tourism sector is a major foreign currency earner, generating just over US$1 billion from 2,5 million tourist arrivals recorded in 2018.
The freezing of international and domestic travel has significantly affected tourism, throwing off kilter a 30% growth forecast in domestic tourism by the end of 2020. During the period under review, international tourist arrivals in Zimbabwe declined by between 30% and 80%, making a loss of close to US$1 billion in tourism receipts.
However, the recovery of the key foreign currency earner has been gaining momentum with various tourism players throughout the country re-opening facilities in strict compliance with the Covid-19 health protocols.
On the other hand, the government recently exempted all tourism services from Value-Added Tax for domestic receipts in a bid to reduce the prices being charged on tourism products and services.
The government has also opened up areas for tourism development to allow for product innovation and diversification in the form of cultural tourism, recreational areas and resort developments.
Some of the areas earmarked for these developments include Tugwi Mukosi, Kanyemba, Osborne Dam, Binga and Kariba. Such developments are expected to address the supply side of our tourism.
To augment this process, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) is also working tirelessly to stimulate rural development while also promoting domestic tourism which had taken a knock in recent years.
To this end, ZTA—a corporate body responsible for tourism promotion and enforcement of standards—recently launched a domestic tourism campaign, coined ZimBho #IzimYami #Vakatsha.
The campaign, from which all domestic tourism promotion initiatives will be premised, urges residents to rediscover Zimbabwe in a bid to prop up the tourism sector.
It aims to plug the shortfall in tourist revenues brought about by Covid-19.
The campaign focuses on leisure tourism, MICE—meaning Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions, sport, religion, health and VFR—visiting friends and relatives—in various parts of the country.
The domestic tourism initiative feeds into the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy, launched in August by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, challenging the sector to achieve a US$5 billion tourism economy by the year 2025. One of the key pillars of this Recovery and Growth Strategy is the promotion of domestic tourism.
Relief packages have also been extended to affected tourism businesses within the tourism value chain, to secure jobs and re-establish contact with the local, regional and international tourism markets.
Elsewhere, several initiatives are expected to drive the numbers in the tourism sector following the approval of the Victoria Falls-Binga Special Economic Zone by Cabinet.
This will see the development of integrated tourism resorts in the Masuwe area near Victoria Falls, development of a national park around the Gwayi-Shangani Dam, a new resort in Binga and an eco-tourism park in Sijarira Forest. The proposed development in Binga includes the upgrading of the airport to improve accessibility to this resort.
In addition, a new tourism resort will be opened in the Batoka area, where the government has since demarcated land for tourism development, in addition to plans to establish a new hydropower station.
It is encouraging to note that the ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry, led by Honourable Nqobizitha Ndhlovu, is also pursuing the restoration of the Old Bulawayo Monument and the Epworth Balancing Rocks in close collaboration with the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Indeed, all tourism entities, private and public, are pulling all the stops to ensure the sector re-infuses confidence in the marketplace and encourages visitors to travel to and within.
At the same time, the ZTA has begun tapping into sport tourism, one of the fastest growing sectors in tourism.
To this end, President Mnangagwa last month launched a promotional campaign spearheaded by the ZTA and Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) aimed at boosting the country’s tourism.
The initiative is expected to leverage on the popularity of cricket which attracts millions of audiences across the globe to help make Zimbabwe a tourist destination of choice.
This will see the Zimbabwe national cricket teams—whether on the field of play, training or travelling—wearing shirts bearing the ‘Visit Zimbabwe, A World of Wonders’ branding on the sleeve.
We are encouraged that last month, a United States-based travel and tourism agency, Tourlane, named Zimbabwe the safest place to visit in the world when countries reopen their borders for international travel post-Covid-19 restrictions.
It goes without saying that the government, the tourism industry and other stakeholders need to continue to put hands on deck in finding measures to address the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the tourism sector.
The ZTA will continue roll out campaigns to market Zimbabwe’s tourism and reassure source markets that Zimbabwe remains a destination of choice.
About the writer: Koti is the head of corporate affairs at the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority.