President Mnangagwa launched the US$5 billion National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy in Victoria Falls yesterday and officially opened a luxury hotel at the country’s prime destination.
He could not leave the town without visiting the Falls themselves. Later he reopened the Rain Forest, where the Falls are located, to tourists.
The President commissioned Mbano Manor Hotel and toured Palm River Lodge which is under construction and is expected to be complete in July next year.
The strategy will guide national efforts towards a recovery and growth of the sector which has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Indeed, launching the strategy at this time and in the country’s biggest tourism attraction was telling. The industry is on its knees as Covid-19 has stopped foreigners from visiting and locals from visiting places of interest countrywide because of lockdowns imposed worldwide to curb the spread of the coronavirus. However, the Government recently partially reopened the industry to local visitors subject to strict guidelines,
We see the partial reopening as important as it should give the industry the head start to come handy when the country reopens for unimpeded travelling.
Launching the blueprint in Victoria Falls is very appropriate as well. Yes, it could have been unveiled in Harare or Bulawayo, for example, but doing that in either city would have distanced the strategy from the industry it is meant to rejuvenate. It would have lacked the right context which Victoria Falls, as the tourism capital of the country, provides.
Speaking at the launch President Mnangagwa said the strategy, which is based on the national vision to become a more competitive tourism destination will inter alia, facilitate increased investments in the sector.
The strategy, he said, should inspire investors in the industry to be more creative and innovative in offering new products and services which will enhance the country’s competitiveness as a tourism destination.
The tourism sector has an important role to play in the attainment of the national 2030 vision and is one of the four pillars underpinning the growth of the country alongside agriculture, mining and manufacturing sectors, he added.
“This target challenges the sector to work harder to achieve increased domestic and international tourist arrivals, room occupancy and increased tourist expenditures in the economy,’’ said the President.
“It further compels us to be creative and innovative by offering the target markets new products and services that will continuously give the country a competitive edge in the region and globally.’’
In addition to unveiling the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy, commissioning Mbano Manor Hotel, reopening the Rain Forest to tourists and touring Palm River Lodge, the President launched the Victoria Falls Financial Hub Special Economic Zone. This means that apart from being the national tourism hub, Victoria Falls would be the financial hub of the country.
Yesterday was truly a big moment for the industry, as it laid the foundation for post-Covid-19 recovery and growth. Recovery from the pandemic will however, not be easy for our country. That will likely be the case elsewhere across the globe. The high number of Covid-19 cases worldwide, the fatalities at 707 000 as of Wednesday, the ease of transmission of the coronavirus and the fact that there is no treatment yet have struck fear in everyone. People feel safer when they are alone at home, away from the crowd. This has meant zero tourists, thus zero income for the local tourism industry since early this year when source markets in Europe, America and Asia started effecting lockdowns. Having been hit so hard, for six months and counting, recovery looks to take some time.
The industry generated US$1,050 billion in receipts from 2,6 million international tourists in 2018, a seven percent growth from US$917 million in 2017 when 2,4 million foreigners visited. Last year, the sector made US$1,25 billion, according to the 2019 Budget and Economic Review Report released by Treasury early last month. Figures for this year will certainly be far lower.
However, we are optimistic that stronger destination marketing, more investment, the strategy launched yesterday and the ZW$500 million tourism sector stimulus package will help lessen the damage that Covid-19 has wrought on local tourism, at the same time alleviate our fears for a more protracted recovery.