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Tourism players feel Covid-19 pinch

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THE government’s Covid-19 vaccination blitz in Victoria Falls which was partly designed to entice international holidaymakers is yet to bear fruit, with tourism players in the country’s major resort bemoaning low arrivals.
NOKUTHABA DLAMINI
Victoria Falls was prioritised in the government’s mass vaccination campaign in a bid to aid the post-Covid-19 tourism revival.
The president of the Employers’ Association for Tours and Safari Operators, Clement Mukwasi, said the current lockdowns would hamper  tourism businesses. This would have consequences for job creation and economic activities.
“When we look at the international arrivals, we have performed very badly,”Mukwasi said.
“However, I do not have ready statistics, but we have performed very badly with limited airlines and our land borders closed, which has severely minimised tourists who might want to visit our destinations.”
On the domestic tourism front, Mukwasi said the low turnout of local visitors was also hampered by the closure of companies, selective vaccination rollouts and shortcomings in marketing.
“Companies were closed, even those outside tourism were closed, so income levels were eroded. As a result, very few people could manage to come down to Victoria Falls or any part of the country for tourism purposes.
“The second issue was long closure that made tourists not to be sure whether to travel or not. As employers, we are now trying to work on the discovery and re-marketing of the industry in terms of the preparation for its growth afterwards.
“We are happy that the current lockdowns have been put into effect. However, the green routes that have remained in the country are very small such that our businesses are confined as most of our clients are from Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare in their totality, so the moment such areas are placed inside red tape, it means they (holidaymakers) cannot travel and this means that a place like Victoria Falls will be very disadvantaged in a very big way”.
Peggie White, an environmental tour operator in Victoria Falls, said that in the past the tourism industry itself had generated donor funding for local non-profit organisations like hers and that has dried up too.
“Furthermore, the private sector – including commercial banks – has been slow to offer short-term liquidity solutions. International aid and non-governmental packages remain short, and further pressure has been placed on charities supporting the tourism environment, wildlife conservation and communities, especially those in need,” she said.
To mitigate the impact of Covid-19 and revive the tourism industry, Mukwasi said preliminary engagements have begun to discuss the idea of medical tourism.
“We hope that at some point we will be allowed to import vaccines and engage in medical tourism where we want our tourists to come for their first vaccinations and another after 14 days,” he said.
“We have started lobbying the relevant ministries including the Health and Child Care though we are still at preliminary levels. We have sent the papers, so because of the demand and protocols to be observed in the kind of position we are hoping the Ministry of Health will take the thought and evaluate for the purpose of pursuing the revival of tourism.”
Conversations around the issue began February last year and in March the engagements gained momentum. A private medical centre in Harare, HealthPoint Hospital, announced this week that it is opening its vaccination doors to South African visitors who might be interested in taking locally administered vaccinations at a cost of US$100.
The fee covers two doses, administered two weeks apart. The company was authorised by the government to offer the service to foreigners at a premium while locals will be paying US$40 instead. The hospital says it soon hopes to offer the same service in Victoria Falls, via a tourist-friendly package.

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