Leonard Ncube, Victoria Falls Reporter
TOURISM operators and hoteliers in Victoria Falls have resolved to suspend operations to prevent spread of the deadly Covid-19 (coronavirus), which has seen the country recording three positive cases.
Lately, players in the industry have suffered massive cancellations of bookings resulting in room occupancy rate dropping to average two percent in some hotels while others are already at zero. Three quarters of jobs have since been lost after employers terminated contracts while some workers have been sent on forced leave or placed on half salary because of lack of business.
Africa Albida Tourism (AAT), a hospitality group with hotels, lodges and restaurants across Southern Africa yesterday announced that it will suspend operations at all its properties in Victoria Falls for the next three months starting on Tuesday next week. In a statement, the hospitality group’s chief executive, Mr Ross Kennedy, said the affected properties are Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Victoria Falls Safari Club, Victoria Falls Safari Suites, Lokuthula Lodges, The Boma Dinner & Drum Show. Operations will resume on July 1, subject to the prevailing health situation.
“After deep and careful consideration with our board, shareholders, works council and employees we have made the difficult but correct decision to temporarily cease operations at all our Victoria Falls properties for the next three months. Our last day of operation will be March 31, 2020,” said Mr Kennedy.
He said the group considered health and welfare of employees’ families, community and tourists.
“The plan is to commence operation on July 1 but this may be further extended or even shortened depending on the prevailing situation. This is a time of huge uncertainty in our country and across the world and we as AAT have to do our part to curtail the spread of the virus,” said Mr Kennedy.
The reservations office will remain open while a skeleton staff will be on standby to deal with affected clients. An official from the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe said operators had been told to follow suit.
“We have engaged the leadership and the industry that if we all care for all our staff we must follow suit and do what’s right. We can recover money but lives lost are lost for good and the families will have lost breadwinners,” said the official on condition of anonymity.
He said the tourism industry was facing shutdown as a result of coronavirus which has resulted in massive cancellation of trips and bookings worldwide.
Some small lodges in Hwange have also reportedly stopped booking people while some businesses and organisations have also closed shop.
Meanwhile, Victoria Falls municipal police fought running battles with Zambian vendors yesterday as residents expressed concern about laxity of authorities at the country’s ports of entry. The vendors cross through Victoria Falls border post every morning to sell vegetables, tomatoes, green mealies and other farm produce as well as clothes and return to their country in the evening.
Authorities at the border said they were waiting for official communication to close the border.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has also said the industry is uniquely exposed with an estimated 50 million jobs set to be lost globally. WTTC appealed to governments to come up with tourism funds to support the industry. – @ncubeleon.