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Tourism players pin hopes on festive rebound

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ADVENTURE tourism companies in Victoria Falls are starting to open up, amid preparations for the festive
season.

Helicopter flights, boat cruises, bunge jumping and rafting had been closed since 28 March when the government announced strict lockdown measures to curb the Covid-19 pandemic.

Aircraft charter company Bonnaise Air has already resumed operations with the domestic market being a
prime target.

According to the company’s manager, Lovemore Ndlovu, the response from the market has been slow. “We opened our charters on 3 October and, so far, our bookings are at 0,002%,” he said.

“Our domestic market has been slow, therefore, we are currently flying upon request and few bookings.”

This is despite the company’s strategy to reduce its charter costs by almost 50%. “We have introduced Covid-19 pricing where our clients are paying US$90 to tour the Zambezi rainforest for 15 minutes,” Ndlovu explained.

“This discount is much more reasonable because we used to charge US$150 for that duration and it is our hope that when the festive season approaches, we will have more and more numbers tickling in.”

Clement Mukwasi, a spokesperson for Shearwater adventure company, said the firm resumed operations on Thursday, eight months after its closure.

“For now, the company is literally closed,” Mukwasi said. “Covid-19 affected us negatively but we have started operations in two phases.

“Our limited activities will begin with opening up of sunset cruises, accommodation and restaurants and the domestic market is our prime target. We are looking at adding regional and international markets by 15 December
where we will add helicopter flights and high-wire activities like bungee jumping. We hope that between
the two phases borders will be fully operational and Covid-19 restrictions would be eased regionally and internationally.”

Ndlovu said his company pinned hopes on borders being open as their 2020 bookings were rescheduled to post-Covid-19 phase.

“Our clients from Asia, Europe and other parts of the world did not cancel their bookings so as Bonnaise Air, we are convinced that when borders are fully open, we will have a good start.

“We only received 20% cancellations and that is a positive sign for us,” he said. But for Shearwater, the road to recovery will take time.

“It’s not going to be easy and we can’t deny that fact,” Mukwasi said. “The company had debts and we were also owed by our trading partners, so the opening profits are not going to be substantial, maybe our company will start standing on its feet in the first quarter of 2021 when there has been a positive breakthrough on the Covid-19 vaccine.”

Victoria Falls is Zimbabwe’s tourism hub and receives tens of thousands of tourists every year, but the disruption of travel globally is taking its toll on the resort, with many businesses facing viability problems.

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 on 30 March this year.

At least 18% of the workforce was sent on unpaid leave. 0nly 6% of workers are unaffected.

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