The Sunday News
Nkosilathi Sibanda, Business Correspondent
THERE is a growing concern on the slow growth of domestic tourism in the country, a situation that has seen the Government partnering stakeholders in the sector in formulating strategies that lure locals to develop a tour and travel habit.
While statistics detailing the number of international visitors to the country are easy to gather, it has become apparent in the industry that it is hard to collate the number of resident Zimbabweans who partake in tourism at a given time. This, as experts in hospitality and tourism industry attest, has had a negative impact on how to package products tailor-made to attract local holiday makers.
A visit to most destinations in the country, reveals a rather disappointing experience to the native. Almost all products and activities are designed and packaged for visitors from elsewhere. On realising this, the Minister of Environment, Climate Change, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Mangaliso Ndlovu has pledged to work with every stakeholder to work out a plan that will bring about change in the local travel trend.
Minister Ndlovu, in an interview last week, said it is high time local tourism be promoted. He raised concern on the lack of accurate statistical data on local tourism trends as well.
“We tend to focus much on the international tourist and forget about how we can garner support from our people who are keen on doing travel within the country’s tourism destinations. It is not easy statistically, to capture domestic tourism activity. We focus on international tourists’ entry to the country and hotel occupancy. I have talked with the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority on how best we can develop a template with various players in the tourism sector to find out the number of local people who do travel. We have to know the demographics,” said Minister Ndlovu.
It is the minister’s view that a demographic survey of local tourists will go a long way in understanding the needs and tastes of local travel enthusiasts. Of concern to both public and private players in the hotel and travel industry is the issue of pricing. Local holiday makers have blamed service providers of over-charging the local travellers.
A study done by local researchers on “Pricing and domestic tourism performance in Zimbabwe” points out that foreign visitors that visit the country’s tourism and hospitality facilities are held in high esteem than locals.
“There has been too much attention on international tourism in developing nations than domestic tourism. Domestic tourists staying in hotels made up the population. Results indicated that most tourism products were moderately priced. It was also revealed that Zimbabwean domestic tourists are highly price sensitive. It was concluded that in Zimbabwe pricing policies are affecting domestic tourism performance. Major insights were that domestic tourists were in favour of least pricing, discount pricing, differentiated pricing and price bundling,” the study indicated.
Minister Ndlovu concurred, stating that in as much as Government will push for price reductions in tourism, there is a need to understand the industry’s competitiveness and viability. He was, however, quick to say that the pricing regime obtaining was affected by economic performance.
“When you look at destination Zimbabwe, we did not transition properly from the Zimbabwe dollar to the US dollar era. Rates have remained high. The challenge we have is that we are dealing with private companies where as the ministry we cannot tell them to lower their rates. They need to see the benefits,” he said.
Economic analyst Mr Reginald Shoko challenged Government and private players in the tourism industry to speed up the implementation of tour packages to lure the locals.
“Who can best market brand Zimbabwe other than ourselves? We have a wrong culture of placing tourism as a pastime done by foreigners. The mutually beneficial relationship between Government arms running tourism and private players must also give way to promote local travel. Why not have a system of awarding loyalty discounts for those of us who support the local travel and hospitality industry? Give people discounts and certainly we are going to see rewards. Government, especially through the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, must put in a deliberate policy to promote travel even off holiday seasons,” he said.
According to the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ), locals travel to resorts and other destinations of interest during public holidays. On record, HAZ said, even at the fall of 2019, price increases were harming local tourism growth and the country could be prejudicing itself of thousands of potential tourists because of exorbitant charges.