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Second lockdown deals tourism sucker punch



THE government’s decision to allow the tourism sector to remain open during the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown has not yielded positive results as most of the leisure facilities have not been receiving clients since the beginning of the year, players in the industry have revealed.

Employers Association of Tourism and Safari Operations (EASTO) president Clement Mukwasi said even though the organisation has not compiled statistics of the decline in business, the drop has been felt across the country.

“Tourism is dependent on the travel of people and with inter-city travel currently restricted and land borders closed, we are not doing anything at the moment,” Mukwasi said.

“In Victoria Falls, just like other tourist sites, we have had very low incidences, about one or two clients, once in a while flying in from other cities like Harare so our leisure tourism is currently at its knees but we continue to open in case we might have a few who might be able to come through. “Mukwasi said.

Hotels Association of Zimbabwe Matabeleland North chapter chairperson Anald Musonza said  although the government’s decision to allow tourist destinations to remain open is a welcome development, the market has not responded positively.

Musonza, like Mukwasi, blamed the ban on inter-city travel as very few people can afford flying to destinations like Victoria Falls.

“This Covid pandemic is not just a health challenge but has posed many economic challenges as businesses support livelihoods and the tourism and hospitality industry has been hit badly by the effects of this pandemic,” he said.

“Our occupancies post festive season have dropped significantly as the travel restrictions make it difficult for holidaymakers to make decisions to come to far off places like Victoria Falls.”

Trymore Ndolo, chairperson of Sinathankawu Curio Market in Victoria Falls, said effects are also being felt by curio vendors in the resort city who said they have spent several months without selling any artefacts and curios.

“The festive season did not help us and, with lockdown, the business has declined even more,” Ndolo said.

“The situation is so dire that many of our members have gone for several months without selling their curios and that complicates the situation even more because most of them are dependent on marketing and selling these curios to international tourists.”

Mukwasi pleaded for humanitarian assistance for tourism employers as 94% of them have been negatively affected by the pandemic since March last year.

According to findings of a recent study by We Are Victoria Falls, a local hospitality industry initiative, the lockdown has affected 94% of the people employed in the sector.

It says 49% of workers in tourism were forced to work reduced hours and to take pay cuts as a result of the lockdown that was imposed in March this year.

At least 18% of the workforce was sent on unpaid leave.

“This an ongoing issue and we are in desperate need of a bailout, “ Mukwasi said.

“Hopes had actually grown during the festive season because the number of local tourists was up by approximately 42%, but then after that time the second wave and the lockdown completely took away the hopes,” he said.

“This has sent quite a lot of shivers in the industry and we are going to continue with reduction of number of people who can remain on the pedal.”

“Most people at the moment are actually no longer on the payroll and what we hope for is that there shall be some recovery funds which are not only going to look at asset capitalisation but the welfare of employees as well because this is a very difficult and extraordinary times we are living in where we continue to lose high-value employees and there isn’t much that we can do to maintain them in the workplace.

“We have no cashflows at all as companies had not reserved some monies at the beginning of the pandemic, so the truth is that there is no employer who still have the capacity to continue paying all the workers when the accounts are empty.”