The Sunday News
Nkosilathi Sibanda, Business Correspondent
THE rise in the price of food and other daily basic amenities such as transport have forced local holiday makers to defer their travel plans, largely impacting on the country’s efforts in promoting a culture of home-grown travel and leisure.
Big plans by tour operators, Government and its tourism marketing arm, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) to encourage local residents to visit tourist attractions have hit a snag. Industry players blame it on the incessant price hikes.
According to the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ), the Heroes and Defence Forces holidays did not yield much for the sector as price increases discouraged local travellers. HAZ said price increases were harming growth and the country could be prejudicing itself of thousands of potential tourists because of exorbitant charges. HAZ president Mr Innocent Manyera said if prices continue to rise, it spells doom on efforts to encourage local tourists.
“Domestic tourism thrives on public holiday but with the current situation of price increases, the industry is on a low. When prices rise, the first impact is on the domestic tourist. For instance, most domestic tourists failed to travel over the just ended Heroes and Defence Forces holiday because they did not have money to spend.
“In a situation like this, people defer their tourism plans to give priority to pay bills and other needs. Prices even outside hotels and lodges are out of reach for many, of which we cannot talk of reviving local tourism in this environment.”
Mr Manyera said as long as salaries remain low, locals will continue to find it hard to save for travel and tourism.
“People’s salaries do not meet with prices on the market, workers and their families won’t be able to do travel and related leisure activities. These are local tourists. Therefore as long as prices keep on rising, local tourism is affected and the industry suffers, especially on public holidays when we expect to have more of domestic tourists,” he said.
For years, local residents were shut out from tourism activity. Owing to meagre disposable income, few Zimbabweans can recall a recent holiday memory. Tourism today is a case in point of the haves and the have nots, a matter whose resolution remains a bone of contention for the Government and players in the travel and hospitality industry.
At the start of the year, the tourism industry ignited a long lost hope for growth in the sector with as many tourists visiting the country. In its estimates for 2019, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) said it expected more than 2,8 million foreign tourists to have visited.
On inquiring about local tourism activity, travel agents in Bulawayo, Harare and Victoria Falls attest that figures are not easy to collate. But still, if ever locals do travel and tourism, the numbers are low. In a wide range of interviews with residents of Victoria Falls and Bulawayo, there was a single factor influencing local travel and tour — that is affordability.
Mrs Kesneth Mlalazi of Chinotimba suburb in the resort town said she last visited the rainforest in 2012.
“Before I used to frequent the waterfalls and most of the time I would take in the whole family into a hotel. By then it was cheaper, now with my $500 salary, I no longer afford,” said the 58-year-old mother.
Entry to the Victoria Falls in pegged at $10 for locals, not many have it at hand. A decent meal in the town is no less that $20, that is in the affordable low end eateries. In their summation, players in the industry agree that the reason for the low uptake of tourist activities by locals is that it is expensive.
Mr Langton Masunda, a wildlife conservation and hunting safari operator in the Gwayi Conservancy said the trend with local tourists is that they prefer to travel to places closer to their homes.
“It is a simple case of economics where one would work with the money they have at their disposal. Local tourists would prefer to explore places that are cheaper, of which not many are able to do that,” he said.
The low appetite for travel is one development that is likely to evoke serious introspection within the country’s bodies that include ZTA and the Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe (TBCZ).
Booking a day’s bed and breakfast in any of the country’s destinations remain a distant dream for many locals as the prices seem to be largely tailor-made for the few elites. According to statistics provided by the Zimbabwe Tourism Council (ZTC), local tourism activity is surpassed by visitors from South Africa who contribute 30 percent of tourists that come into Zimbabwe every year.