Leonard Ncube, Victoria Falls Reporter
ALTHOUGH the Covid-19 pandemic has almost grounded various industries leading to streamlining of workforce due to loss of business, the tourism sector players remain hopeful of better prospects.
Following Government stance to rope in all stakeholders in a drive to rebuild the country’s image and economy, tourism players including hoteliers have come to the party by launching a massive marketing drive for Destination Zimbabwe.
Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu a fortnight ago gave the players in the tourism industry in Victoria Falls the nod to tour the Rainforest to take footage to be used to market the country.
Working with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) the sector organised itself and toured the World Heritage site over two days.
The Victoria Falls National Park, which houses the Falls and Rainforest was closed in March as a result of the coronavirus.
Under the latest marketing offensive, the tourism industry in Victoria Falls has already started reaching out to clients, agents and partners all over the world riding on the already existing “We are Victoria Falls Initiative”.
Operators said the sector is not discouraged by the lockdown, which has seen the Falls reaching an all-time peak in over a decade albeit with no tourists witnessing it.
Ms Shelly Cox, who coordinates the “We are Victoria Falls Initiative” paid tribute to Government and ZimParks for affording tour operators the chance to get into the Rainforest and witness the volume of water cascading over the Victoria Falls.
“It was rejuvenating and motivating for many to be back in one of the world wonders and be reminded of how blessed we are to have this Unesco World Heritage site as part of our natural heritage in Zimbabwe,” she said.
“After the inaccurate and negative reports in November about the water levels running dry, it was positive for many to be able to share with our traveler-friends and colleagues around the world that Victoria Falls is indeed flowing in full force following good seasonal rains earlier this year.”
Elephants Walk operator Mrs Gail Van Jaarsveldt said the marketing drive will further boost the international community’s confidence on Zimbabwe.
“Now we are going out there to tell the world that despite the ‘Falls is dry’ negative publicity, we will be the Mighty Falls again after Covid-19. The Falls is displaying its spectacular beauty. We have benefitted from international donors for Covid-19 fight and 90 percent of these donors are people who have been to Victoria Falls before. We are going to put a newsletter marketing the destination so they, together with our agents, come back,” said Mrs Van Jaarsveldt.
Wild Spoor Safaris founder Mr Lewis Mangaba said they cannot wait any longer to host international clients again.
“We got pictures and we are sending them across the globe to all our contacts and agents who are mostly from USA, Europe, Germany and Australia,” he said.
Another indigenous operator Mr Oliver Mwembe of Inkwazi Tours and Transfers said effective marketing with enable the country to regain business lost due to the lockdown.
“It’s nice to see the Falls at their fullest although they’re being wasted by Covid-19 as we’re losing tourists. We’re going back to the drawing board to tell the international world and travel agents that we are working hard to be back on board and hope Government will reopen domestic tourism soon,” said Mr Mwembe.
Government is engaging stakeholders with a view to open domestic tourism.
Jafuta Foundation director Ms Danielle Connolly who is also a Yoga teacher said it was time to pull all strings for the country.
“We are filled with joy to have been accorded opportunity to experience the Falls for the first time in three months. This is the time to make sure we really market ourselves and we will use Yoga platform to reach out to many people so that when tourism reopens more people will come and also have a better understanding on importance of wellness,” she said.
An executive from Sable Sands in the Hwange National Park, Ms Marleen Post said safari and tour of the Falls are the major drawcards.
“International travellers come to the country for safari and the Falls. We have heard the Falls so loudly every day and seen the green tropical forest from afar as they are at their peak. We are closed as safaris because travellers cancelled but we have managed to maintain staff. It’s up to us as operators to aggressively market the destination and activities so that we also help maintain our staff,” she said.
Mr William Henson from Shongwe Lookout said reopening the industry will save smaller operators that are on the verge of collapse.
“We hope we can open soon for domestic tourism as each day that passes without an opportunity to host tourists is a day closer to some of the smaller tourism operators having to close down permanently. We are all eager to reignite our tourism and be able to support the livelihoods that tourism sustains and our natural wild open spaces that Zimbabwe is renowned for,” said Mr Henson.
Proprietor of Mbano Manor Hotel Mrs Matifadza Martha Nyazema said the initiative was an opportunity to use footage of the Falls to make the global clients view the Falls during the lockdown.
“We are reminding the world that this bucket list natural wonder still awaits them” she said.
Her sentiments were echoed by Excellence Trails Safaris’ Mr Sisa Mthunzi, who is into photographic safaris, who said all hope is not lost for a post-Covid-19 tourism boom.
“The great footage we got will serve as a fantastic marketing tool to try and engage agents and future travelers and assure them that despite the lockdown, nature has not been disturbed and we await them to visit,” said Mr Mthunzi.
Victoria Falls Guide’s Mr Tony Peel said the gesture was long overdue as it should have been done earlier, as he advised operators to adjust operations to survive.
“Everything that the industry and decision makers do now is going to dramatically show how strong tourism will rebound in Zimbabwe for 2021. Tourists want to return as soon as they can hence individually and collectively, we as operators and agents should market Victoria Falls like never before.
“Tourists will return in big numbers as long as we make the right decisions hence the future of our tourism is in our hands,” he said.
The drive to market Destination Zimbabwe is well in line with the “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra adopted by President Mnangagwa immediately after his inauguration in 2017 as he sought re-engagement with the international community.
Since then Zimbabwe is on a rebranding offensive since after the country’s ranking as a viable tourism and investment destination was compromised over two decades owing to bilateral differences between Harare and some western countries.
In 2018 the country launched a national branding exercise to enhance business growth, increase tourism arrivals, restore hope for a better future for citizens and investor confidence and thus facilitate wider economic growth towards an upper middle-income income country by 2030.
Each province was tasked to come up with its branding initiatives towards rebuilding the country’s image.
President Mnangagwa reiterated the call recently when he urged all provinces and exporting companies to set specific trade and export targets so that they contribute more to national earnings. Matabeleland North’s major revenue earner is tourism and the province is endowed with a variety of attractive natural heritage sites and wildlife.
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has predicted that 2020 will be a tougher year for the tourism industry, which for Zimbabwe is one of the major economic pillars. The sector recorded 2,6 million international tourist arrivals in 2018, a six percent increase from 2,4 million received in 2017. This calls for multifaceted measures to sustain the industry. — @ncubeleon