Prosper Ndlovu, Business Editor
TOURISM and Hospitality Industry Minister, Prisca Mupfumira, says the pricing of tourism products in Zimbabwe needs to be reviewed downwards to enhance competitiveness and increase volumes.
Cutting tourism pricing has to be buttressed by aggressive domestic tourism campaigns that include tailor-made packages for special groups such as school children and middle income earners such as civil servants, she said.
While the country boasts of a diverse natural and historical tourism heritage attraction sites across provinces, local destination pricing is seen as expensive when compared to regional benchmarks. Minister Mupfumira admits the pricing factor is a serious repellent to both domestic and international tourists.
“I agree with you, some of our products are not competitively priced, particularly, the hotels. But what we have done is that we have set up a committee to look into the pricing issues, not only for hotels but the national parks, they are expensive,” said the minister in a recent interview.
“If you look at the Victoria Falls most of the people around there cannot afford to get into the falls, which is wrong. They have experienced that and we have made representation and suggestions. Even Cabinet agreed that we need to reduce our prices for national parks.”
It costs between $100 and $200 to book a decent hotel in Zimbabwe while the price can double in major tourist resorts like the Victoria Falls. Zimbabwe, as a destination, becomes even more expensive given the South African rand’s slump against the United States dollar. According to the Zimbabwe Tourism Council (ZTC), South Africa contributes 30 percent of tourists that come into Zimbabwe every year.
Minister Mupfumira commended the sprouting of lodges and smaller tourism players across the country, and hoped the trend will help trim prices through competition.
“I think the other way, which will force our hotels to reduce pricing is through the use of B’nB lodges so that they are competitively priced and these people will be forced to reduce prices. So, I am very happy with the sprouting of lodges throughout because their prices are much better than some of the established hotels,” said the minister.
Although Zimbabwe has registered positive growth in international arrivals so far this year, she said there was a need to drive increased domestic tourism.
Minister Mupfumira said a vibrant domestic tourism campaign will require competitive pricing.
“We are looking at ways also of coming up with packages especially for civil servants where they can pay special rates over a period, special rates for the disabled and school children coming in groups. So, pricing is an issue, which we are addressing very aggressively,” she said.
While acknowledging concerns of expensive pricing, hospitality service providers have blamed these on high cost structure in doing business. The players have said they are not amused by the 15 percent VAT levied from the sector as well as other costs related to importation of critical raw materials, which are not available locally.
Minister Mupfumira acknowledged the concerns but said increasing pricing was not the solution.
“I think the problem we have in Zimbabwe is that a lot of people don’t try to be cost effective. When they see their profits going down, all they think is increasing the price and not looking at their cost structure,” she said.
The minister said strong stakeholder collaboration was needed to reduce the cost structure in the tourism industry and achieve more competitiveness.
“For instance, we have Victoria Falls and Livingstone across the road and they are much cheaper than us. Why should they be much cheaper than us yet its same destination and we sell the same falls?” she said.
“There is something wrong and we have lost some businesses. Some people are going to sleep in Livingstone because they don’t want to come because Victoria Falls is expensive and that’s where they are spending their money. So, we are addressing such issues with Zimbabwe Council for Tourism to see how we can be competitive.
“Even in the region we need to be competitive. If you go to South Africa they are much cheaper than what we are. So, it’s something we are working on. We are looking at these seriously as Government, and in particular as a ministry and as ZTA (Zimbabwe Tourism Authority).