Prosper Ndlovu in Victoria Falls
PRESIDENT Mnangagwa yesterday officially launched the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy as he led the re-start of the sector, whose contribution to the national economy has been heavily crippled by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The President also officially re-opened the Victoria Falls Rainforest, signalling readiness for the country to welcome visitors into the prime resort destination.

The tourism and hospitality industry is one of the key foreign currency earners in the country and employs thousands of people along the value chain.

Despite the Covid-19 dent on arrivals, Zimbabwe expects to leverage on internal competencies around domestic tourism to unlock wider potential and enhancing operators’ capacities on the interim.

In this regard, the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy will seek to provide increased funding to affected tourism businesses, including small to medium players within the tourism value chain through a Tourism Revolving Fund.

Officially launching the strategy document here, President Mnangagwa said the tourism sector has an important role to play in the attainment of the National Vision as one of the four pillars underpinning economic growth alongside agriculture, mining and manufacturing.

“The National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy we are launching today, is anchored on Zimbabwe’s vision to be a prime international tourist destination based in the judicious and sustainable exploitation of the unique assets of nature, culture, heritage and the built environment.

“The strategy is informed by the Government’s Vision 2030 to become an upper middle income economy characterised by increased investment, decent jobs and populace free from poverty and corruption,” said the President.

“The high growth target of this strategy, which seeks to achieve a US$5 billion tourism economy by year 2025 is ambitious and yet achievable.

“This strategy will also facilitate robust investment into the tourism sector to create employment and help support livelihoods.”

As such, President Mnangagwa challenged players in the sector to work harder to achieve increased domestic and international tourist arrivals, room occupancy and higher tourist expenditures. He said the new strategy focus requires industry players to be creative and innovative by offering the target markets new products and services that continuously give the country a competitive edge in the region and globally.

Already Government has availed a $500 million guarantee facility for access by the sector to support Covid-19 affected entities to stay afloat and save jobs.

The initiative is part of the $18 billion Stimulus Package recently unveiled by Treasury in response to the pandemic.

The tourism sector also enjoys value added tax exemption for a year on products offered locally as part of cushioning measures for the sector.

In view of increased Government support to the industry, President Mnangagwa called on the tourism sector to “re-examine its pricing models” in order to complement the need for tourists to enjoy benefits of products on offer.

He also encouraged locals to explore and enjoy the vast tourism destinations and products throughout the country.

Earlier, President Mnangagwa led a ministerial delegation on a tour of the Victoria Falls Rainforest before officially re-opening it.

He was accompanied by Cabinet ministers Professor Mthuli Ncube (Finance and Economic Development), Dr Sithembiso Nyoni (Women Affairs and SMEs), July Moyo (Local Government), Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri (Defence), Owen Ncube (State Security), Mangaliso Ndlovu (Tourism), Matabeleland North Provincial Minister Richard Moyo, Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet George Charamba and several senior Government officials.

The world heritage site, through which tourists get to view the mighty Victoria Falls, was closed for 100 days following the outbreak of Covid-19 as part of national mitigation efforts against the spread of the pandemic.

President Mnangagwa said while the lockdown period has crippled arrivals, it has led to the reinvigoration of the falls themselves and the renewal of the ecosystem and the surrounding enviroment.

During the tour the Presidential delegation and business players observed with more joy that the water level at the falls had risen to breaking level, an indication of how Zimbabwe remains attractive and enjoyable to the local and global visitor.

President Mnangagwa, however, stressed the need for the country to remain vigilant while opening up the tourism sector by strictly adhering to health and safety guidelines stipulated by the World Health Organisation to curb Covid-19 infections.

Earlier in his address, Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, Mangaliso Ndlovu, said the launch of the new tourism recovery strategy was historic. Coming on the back of a projected tourism drop in arrivals and loss of billions in potential revenue globally, there was a need to come up with urgent measures to counter the impact hence the strategy launch. As it stands now, like all other sectors of the economy, tourism has to look inward for survival. In the absence of regional and international tourist arrivals, the industry has to place its focus on domestic tourism in order to preserve jobs and livelihoods,” said Minister Ndlovu.

He said the strategy document details the implementation matrix towards growth and recovery, which is set to be tested by results. “We will not be deterred by the virus. We, therefore, remain hopeful that the tourism industry will rise again and our vision of a US$5 billion tourism economy will be attained,” said the minister.