THE opening up of the tourism sector that had been closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic has rekindled hopes of a bright future for the tourism industry.
Visitors have started trickling in and different tourist destinations have started recording increasing arrivals.
In places such as Matopos National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), about 35km from Bulawayo, just after the entrance, visitors are greeted by prints on cloth of various wild animals.
There are also curio stalls with various artefacts from beads, bangles, musical instruments and sculptures of the various wild animals found in the national park.
The place is called Jikweni Crafts Centre and in the past every tourist that visited the national park passed through it.
The place like any other tourist site was adversely affected by the Covid-19 induced travel restrictions which saw the number of international tourists dropping sharply.
The pandemic has therefore affected a number of people who depended on selling their art and craft to tourists.
Zimbabwe however remains one of the most sought-after destinations in Africa despite the pandemic challenges which resulted in many countries enforcing travel restrictions to contain the spread of the killer disease.
Most hotels, lodges and tour operators were forced to suspend operations as there were no tourists visiting the country.
Government had to come up with many interventions to assist the revival of the industry when travel restrictions were relaxed.
Tourist destinations such as Victoria Falls were prioritised when the country rolled out its Covid-19 vaccination programme.
The pandemic however had its positives as it taught entrepreneurs to think outside the box.
Artistes such as those at Jikweni Centre have realised that they need to be visible on social media and on the internet so that they get business from there rather than waiting for tourists to visit them.
Mr Bright Mabhena, chairman of Jikweni Crafts Centre in Matobo said at one time they were forced to completely close as there was no business.
He said the lockdown made them realise that they needed to have a digital footprint.
“Our biggest cry is that our shop isn’t known by those who are out of the country. When they come to Matopos National Park, which is known internationally, the tourists stumble upon our curio shop and are surprised to see the beauty of our products.
“I think if we had a website or a way in which we can advertise our shop to the tourists, they will then come knowing what to buy,” said Mr Mabhena.
He said local tourists need to also know what products are found at the shop before they visit the park.
“Local tourists do come and support us but we think they they can buy more if they know in advance what we have.
We hope by the end of the year, we will have better business as the local tourists and international tourists are coming.
There are some tour operators who have given us assurances that there are international tourists who are coming,” said Mr Mabhena.
A chat with those who run stalls at Jikweni Centre revealed that most of them have been working there for more than 30 years.
Ms Ntombi Ndlovu from Silozwe area which is more than 10km away, said she had been at the centre for many years.
“I’ve been making beads like this since I was 10 years old. I have managed to send my children to school using the money I realise from selling these beads.
The outbreak of the coronavirus however changed eveything as visitors stopped coming,” said Ms Ndlovu.
She said local tourists have been supportive as they have been buying some of the items.
Ama Ndlovu (58) who was born in Tsholotsho said she moved to Matonjeni area of Matobo in 1988 and has been making baskets ever since.
“I saw others doing the same and I started as they said this was how they made money. All these years we had good business.
The structure here is that there are people who make these baskets and they sell to those at the stall at wholesale prices. This was what I was doing all these years but recently I started selling my wares directly to tourists,” said Ms Ndlovu.
Mr Zanda Dube from Silozwe area who started his craft at school said it had been hard to make ends meet during lockdown.
“Lockdown really affected us as I used to make enough to fend for my family before the outbreak of the pandemic.
Now with the opening of tourism, business has started picking up slowly and we are now getting the little money to survive,” said Mr Dube. — Follow on Twitter @bonganinkunzi