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Vic Falls sings the blues as tourism remains paralysed

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EMMANUEL Ndlovu (47), a curio vendor in the resort city of Victoria Falls, has only profited US$20 from selling his artifacts since the national lockdown was introduced to control the spread of Covid-19 in March last year.
NOKUTHABA DLAMINI
Ndlovu, a father of eight children, with the youngest being five months old, has struggled to pay his children’s school fees and other bills.
“I have four children that are still going to school and, ever since this pandemic began, l have not been able to pay school fees for them. I also have council bills that I am supposed to clear,” says Ndlovu who operates from Sinathankawu Curio Market, a business trading hub that houses 165 members.
“I have come here everyday since March last year and l have only sold goods worth US$20 combined.
“You find that in our market, we can go for a week or so without tourists coming in to buy or get about three coming through, yet we are so many of us, so the situation is tough and this is a business we have known best since our teenagehood.”
Ndlovu ventured into the curio business in 1992. The Covid-19 pandemic has been the worst episode for him in business.
He says tourists have also made it harder for the vendors as they compel them to underprice the goods, taking advantage of their vulnerability.
“What has killed us more is that even our tourists are no longer buying with a reasonable price,” Ndlovu says.
“They are taking advantage of our desperation where they undervalue our products to fit their pockets knowing that we are vulnerable and in desperate need of money to fend for our families.”
Although hope is high that a Covid-19 vaccine rollout could restore much-needed business in the resort city, Mzimkhulu Sibanda, another curio vendor, says it will take more to turn around the fortunes of tourism.
“Going home without selling anything for a week is now a normal thing for us even after the vaccinations,” he says.
Launched on 18 February, the first phase of the campaign targeted some 60 000 healthcare and other front-line workers.
In March, President Emmerson Mnangagwa took his first shot of the vaccine to launch the second phase of the vaccination programme that is intended for the elderly, teachers, religious leaders, people with critical illnesses – and all adult residents of Victoria Falls.
The symbolic move was aimed at promoting tourism recovery and, since then, residents like Sibanda have been queuing outside public hospitals and clinics, waiting for their turn to get their shot of the vaccine.
“Survival has been tough for us because even the few clients who have come through both from domestic and international markets have not been buying much,” Sibanda said.
“We have done all that is required of us including, vaccination and following Covid-19 rules and regulations, but it keeps getting tougher for us.”
Trymore Ndolo, the association’s chairperson, is hopeful that by June business will begin taking the right direction.
“We thought after vaccinations we will have business, but it is still dry even though many of our members are still reporting for work,” Ndolo said.
“What is positive, though, is that we are now receiving flights as a result of vaccinations where Ethiopian Airways and British Airways, which come twice a week, have announced that they will be landing on daily basis from June 1, so we are hopeful that those tourists are going to visit our markets stalls.”
However, Ndolo expressed concern at the conduct of some desperate street vendors who have a tendency of haggling with tourists to the point of forcing them into buying their products.
“Tourism police should be activated to secure our tourists’ safety because some street vendors are harassing them as they advertise their goods,” Ndolo said.
“This has resulted in some tourists preferring to buy from their nearest shops like in hotels where they’ll be booked in, so we are appealing for re-introduction of tourism police patrols for our clients to have free movement and place of choice.”
Other curio markets in Victoria Falls include Busy Island, Tshaka’s Den and next to the Rainforest while some are also found in hotels and touring companies’ premises, apart from unlicensed street vendors.
Victoria Falls – locally known as Mosi-oa-Tunya – which means “the smoke that thunders” – is currently at its peak, but only a few can witness the world’s greatest curtain of falling water in all its roaring glory.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, more than 350 000 people each year trekked to the Zimbabwean side of the waterfall to see one of the planet’s most remarkable natural wonders. But since then, there have been very few visitors.
During consultations with the government last year, tourism operators called for a financial relief package to help them ease the impact of the pandemic, but little assistance has been rendered to private enterprises.
In response, the government announced in March a US$5.8 million scheme that will see the authorities provide a 50% loan guarantee for businesses in the tourism sector.
The programme, yet to be rolled out in full swing, met criticism by analysts who described it as risky and cautioned that struggling taxpayers could be forced to foot the bill if the companies defaulted. Others, however, said the loan facility should be extended to cover all businesses in hospitality.
According to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), tourism contributed 7.2% and 6.5% of the country’s gross domestic product in 2018 and 2019, respectively. But with business slowing down last year, Zimbabwe’s tourism sector is estimated to have lost at least US$1 billion in potential revenue.

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