The Sunday News
Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Business Reporter
TOURISM and hospitality operators are in the process of collaborating and quantifying forecasted business loss due to the effects of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) with a view of approaching Government for possible financial relief.
Employers Association of the Tourism and Safari Operators (EATSO) president Mr Clemence Mukwasi said the companies were planning to approach the Government with a consolidated positional paper for financial relief for the industry as it forecasts revenue declines due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
“We are working on a position paper to send to the Government for possible financial relief. I’m sure that after the 21 days lockdown we should be able to put one in place. Individual companies have been approaching the Government separately at the moment. A consolidated approach is what we are advocating for,” he said.
The tourism sector is one of the country’s major foreign currency earners, generating just over US$1 billion from 2,5 million tourist arrivals recorded in 2018, according to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA). The freezing of both international and domestic travel due to the outbreak of Covid-19 is expected to significantly impact on the tourism and hospitality industry.
Tourism operators, including hotels in the prime resort of Victoria Falls, have recorded an 80 percent cancellation in bookings leading to some of them temporarily shutting down. According to the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe it is anticipated the cancellations would reach 90 percent for the year.
Mr Mukwasi said it was going to take the industry “some time” to recover but could not be drawn to quantify the amount of loss stating that such statistics could only be tabulated after the tourism sector’s peak period, which normally runs from June to October.
“When the coronavirus eventually clears, travel restrictions may take a bit of time to be removed until there is confidence in our source markets. It’s difficult to take a guess but a time frame between September 2020 to July 2021 is not too far off the point. Full recovery may really be longer. We hope that the world economies will not go into recession after this pandemic,” he said.
Rainbow Tourism Group chief executive officer Mr Tendai Madziwanyika said it was still early to give an assessment of the impact the pandemic has had or would have before the end of the year. He said players should thrive to come up with their own interventions to keep their businesses afloat than to rely on Government bailout.
“It’s really too early to say what will be the impact but instead of all of us lining-up to Government with begging bowls, we need to say to ourselves, how do we individually play a role as companies to rebuild this economy. So, we would like to first of all see what has been the impact when all of it has gone and see if we can play a further role as a company or we need some form of assistance but we have to be responsible citizens,” he said.
Mr Madziwanyika expressed optimism that the tourism sector was likely to rebound when its peak season starts.
“We are quite confident and positive, if you look at normal trends our business starts peaking up around June, this is when internationals travel because it will be their summer . . . so between June to about September-October we experience a spike in international travel. If by God’s grace we are out of the woods, let’s say by end of May we believe there will be so much demand. Of course, there will be those that will still be afraid to travel . . . ,” he said.
Mr Madziwanyika added that with the water levels at the Victoria Falls having significantly risen, it was largely anticipated that the number of tourists flocking into the country would increase as well. He further hinted the need for the country to contain the number of Covid-19 for it to be an attractive destination for tourists.
“After this lockdown period, which is frankly quite global, we think there might be quite a lot of people who are itching to get away and say where can we go. Thankfully our cases are still very low, that, we need to safeguard because if we can keep those cases low, it means Zimbabwe will become an attraction and on top of that, there is an amazing thing, which has happened as we all know, the Victoria Falls is our number one attraction globally, one of the seven natural wonders of the world and we are experiencing record water volumes there,” he said.
Mr Madziwanyika further pointed out that the sector also stands to reap immensely after the containment of Covid-19.
“I think there is going to be a lot of demand after the aftermath of this ‘war’. There is going to be a need for bookings for conferencing by local institutions such as non-governmental organisations and regional bodies such as Comesa (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa), Sadc (Southern African Development Community) and African Union. There is going to be a lot to take stock on what would have happened and how countries can build their economies. So, we are quite confident that following the end of this pandemic we may have a lot of visitors,” he said.