Leonard Ncube, Victoria Falls Reporter
GOVERNMENT has given the tourism industry greenlight to resume all business activities in their operations with immediate effect, putting an end to a five months closure as a result of Covid-19.
The decision comes at a time when massive retrenchments were looming in the sector and thereby threatening many lives that are dependent on tourism for survival.
The restart of the sector is expected to excite the market and reignite global attention on “Destination Zimbabwe” as well as breathe in new life down the value chain.
Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu announced the decision yesterday, which follows Cabinet endorsement.
Following intense stakeholder engagements and lobbying by industry leaders, the country has resolved to restart the tourism sector towards recovery. The industry had been heavily battered by the global Covid-19 pandemic as all activities virtually grounded to a halt.
“I am pleased to announce that following Cabinet approval, all tourism activities can now resume operations,” said Minister Ndlovu.
“These include but are not limited to: game drives, bungee jumping, zip liners, helicopter rides, lion walks, elephant rides and all registered tourism activities.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this also includes the resumption of boat operations on our lakes both for tourism and fishing (and other tourism related activities), in strict compliance with Covid-19 pandemic guidelines, which have been developed.
“I mention this particularly because in areas such as Kariba, the boating industry is a key anchor of their tourism industry for both leisure and fishing.”
The minister commended the tourism sector for resilience during the difficult times and assured that the industry will bounce back and achieve the US$5 billion tourism economy by year 2025. The road towards re-opening of tourism started about two months ago when Government began widespread consultations with stakeholders, a process which culminated in the launch of the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy by President Mnangagwa in Victoria Falls last month.
The development was immediately welcomed by players in the tourism and hospitality industry with players emphasising on the need for affordable packages and caution in the face of Covid-19.
Employers Association for the Tourism and Safari Operators (EATSO) president Mr Clement Mukwasi said the reopening of activities should be followed by lifting of the ban on intercity travel.
“We applaud the Government for taking this diligent step of opening the industry. Companies must however ensure that they come up with affordable packages which are sensitive to the income levels of domestic tourists. The reopening of the domestic tourism has to be benchmarked on the opening of intercity travel as public transport also needs to be opened. The industry is in continuous preparatory mode and we are ready for the new normal. Real recovery of the industry shall only be after international borders are opened and for now, we hope that access to recapitalisation funds is going to be done swiftly,” he said.
Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) national vice chair Mr Farai Chimba said the development was long overdue.
“We really needed this. This is a positive development which is a culmination of positive engagements that government departments and private sector tourism players have been having to ensure safe return to tourism.”
“This will have a huge impact in taking those first steps to a long recovery and ensure viability of players in tourism and its value chain. We can only achieve this step by step,” said Mr Chimba.
Ecologist and wildlife farmer Mr Mark Russell, who is chairman of Gwayi Valley Conservation Area, said while the development is welcome, players in the industry should be reminded to take precautionary measures against Covid-19. “Indeed, the decision by Government to allow the resumption of tourism is welcome. However, it is crucial for all players to fully comply to Covid-19 protocols. The opening up of airports should be done cautiously and a safe and balancing act should be achieved for both travellers and airport staff.
“Pricing issues for domestic tourism should also be reviewed, bearing in mind that most citizens have limited disposable income,” he said.
Minister Ndlovu said the negative impact of the coronavirus induced lockdown was felt across the whole tourism sector and its value chains.
“I am nevertheless convinced that the launch of the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy leaves us with clarity as to what Government intends to do to deliver the sector from the current downturn. This however can only be achieved with support of the private sector.
“One of the key questions that had remained unanswered after this launch related to those tourism activities deemed recreational and leisure, which had remained closed.”
Minister Ndlovu said Government was aware that many companies had sent workers on forced leave as a result of the Covid-19 disruption with most remaining on half salaries and in worst case scenarios on unpaid leave.
He said Government and stakeholders have since come up with health guidelines, which were approved by Cabinet detailing protocols that need to be followed for safety as the sector resumes operations.
“Cabinet has allowed tourism activities that had remained shut down as part of the measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic to now resume full operations. This was in keeping with the global policy thrust to strengthen the capacity of the sector to emerge stronger to operate under the new normal.
“However, the impact was more severe in towns such as Kariba and Victoria Fall which are predominantly tourism reliant cities. We hope that this decision to re-open the sector will breathe life into the sector and allow it to pick up the pieces again,” he said.
“For now, all tourism players must go to their drawing boards and begin the process of reopening our facilities, ensure staff are tested prior to commencement and that the guidelines, which were developed are religiously followed.”
Minister Ndlovu challenged the tourism industry to invest in and ensure safe operations through protocols such as temperature check points, contact tracing, recording on arrival of guests, physical distancing marking at their premises, deep cleaning and disinfection of the facility among other things.
He said the re-opening of the industry was a balancing act between saving the economy and strengthening response systems, adding that Government will intensify compliance checks. Meanwhile, Government is actively considering opening airports for domestic tourism as announced by Cabinet, with modalities being worked on to ensure health safety. — @ncubeleon