BY FIDELITY MHLANGA

HOTELS in some of Zimbabwe’s prime destinations were fully booked this week ahead of Christmas tomorrow, as domestic tourists trooped back to resorts following a year-long COVID-19-induced turmoil.

Tourism operators were forced to shut down in March as part of bold government moves to prevent contagion after the pandemic spread across the country, threatening the economy.
The shutdown triggered a huge slowdown in arrivals.

According to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, arrivals dropped by 90% during the ten months to October as a result of lockdown, while the sector is said to have retrenched about 25% of its workers.

In an interview with NewsDay Business yesterday, Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) president Clive Chinwada said they had witnessed a robust rise in bookings ahead of the festive season.

He said some hotels along the Lake Kariba’s eastern front were fully booked, while many facilities across key destinations had also reported 100% occupancy rates.

“There has been a good uptake for hotels this festive period, especially in the eastern highlands, Kariba and Masvingo were hotels are already full,” Chinwada told NewsDay Business.

Kariba and Masvingo destinations, which were affected by the 2000 land grab and the global bad publicity it attracted, were the worst affected by lockdown restrictions.

However, linked by air and road, the two destinations are home to some of southern Africa’s best tourist attractions.

Kariba rides on the vast lake, which stretches over landmark attractions from Kariba town to Mlimbizi to the west of Binga.

In Masvingo, the greatest attraction is the ancient Great Zimbabwe monuments, built around the 15th century by early Zimbabwean kings, who established one of the region’s best cities.

Chinwada said while hotels and lodges in Victoria Falls were not full, they had reported a steep rise in bookings.

“(Hotels in) Victoria Falls will for the first time since March record occupancies above 50%, although this will be confined to the 24th and 26th of December. This surge in demand is welcome, if only it could be sustained for long,” the HAZ boss said.

Like elsewhere in the world, local hotels gradually reopened from October, after losing up to US$1 billion in potential revenue, according to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority.

Authorities had also banned intercity travel during the period to curb the spreading of the virus.

Following the reopening of the economy, which allowed domestic and international flights to return, business has been peaking.

Chinwada said foreign tourists would not flock in as COVID-19 remain a real threat.

There are also added costs that have come with the pandemic, such as testing.

“COVID-19 remains a big issue. As a result, events such as the Vic Falls Carnival, which have become major highlights of the travel calendar, will not happen. This will dent demand for Victoria Falls,” he said.

Chinwada said the resuscitation of domestic flights by Air Zimbabwe was a welcome development as it improved access to Victoria Falls.

“However, the cost of domestic air travel remains high and prohibitive,” he said.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation recently noted that the global travel industry had been hard-hit by COVID-19, with international tourist arrivals envisaged to plunge by between 60% and 80% this year, translating to a loss of up to US$1,2 trillion.

Up to 120 million global jobs that are directly related to tourism are at risk in one of the worst crises to hit international tourism.

The Zimbabwe tourism sector is envisaged to decline by 90%.

Zimbabwe recorded 2,4 million international tourists last year, down from 2,6 million in 2018.

In 2017 the industry received 2,4 million tourists.

Before the travel restrictions were put in place, the country had received 380 000 foreign tourists.

Authorities are expecting the figure to rise marginally.

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