Clemence Manyukwe, News Editor
A NEW campaign to restart tourism in five Sadc countries including Zimbabwe using Victoria Falls as the springboard rightly describes the world’s most pristine tourism ecosystem as Africa’s Eden.
The campaign promoting Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) Trans frontier Conservation Area constituted by parts of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe says the tourism community is fragmented, dispirited and economically stressed and therefore Victoria Falls in Matabeleland North can be the salvation as it has the potential to drive increased business, keeping more revenue in local economies.
Since most regional countries went into lockdown due to Covid-19, companies and individuals alike were left vulnerable hence the push to turn the tide.
Zimbabwe Tourism Authority’s head of corporate affairs Mr Godfrey Koti said the sector has so far run losses, but the recent reopening of the tourism industry has given them hope.
“We were looking at getting about $1,5 billion at the end of the year from tourism but that was heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. We are now anticipating a loss of between $500 million and $1,1 billion,” said Mr Koti.
“In terms of what has been gotten from January 1 to April, it’s really not much; that is why we are not reporting on it in terms of the funds that were made. We lost at least 20 percent of our projected revenue in the first two months just because it’s a slow period. Then March there was nothing that came from tourism until now. We have been in a dip.”
Mr Koti said the recent reopening of the tourism industry has given the sector a bit of hope in terms of financial projections in this particular quarter.
He said the country’s post Covid-19 tourism recovery strategy is anchored on three pillars, domestic, regional and international tourism which will be marketed in phases.
Mr Koti said despite economic challenges, Zimbabwe has a product that stands the test of time as far as tourism is concerned.
To facilitate tourism recovery, Government has also been playing its part and recently it set aside $500 million in guarantees for players to enable them to access capital in the form of loans from banks. A total of $20 million will provide seed capital to kickstart a Tourism Revolving Fund while Value Added Tax (VAT) payable by domestic tourists for accommodation and visitor services has been waived.
As Government and regional countries pin their hopes on Victoria Falls to drive tourism recovery, industry players in the resort town are complementing this by looking at ways to rightly position the prime tourist destination.
Last month stakeholders in and around Victoria Falls launched the “We Are Victoria Falls” initiative to effectively communicate reliable and up to date information on the destination during the pandemic.
So far the initiative has launched a newsletter, developed a website and social media portals.
We Are Victoria Falls Crisis and Recovery Initiative’s coordinator Miss Shelley Cox said all stakeholders, public and private, have been working to put in place exemplary health and safety measures as per Ministry of Health and Child care as well as WHO guidelines.
“Since the launch of the initiative, our communication has reached more than 50 000 people globally. The initiative has achieved good traction both regionally and internationally in communicating with the world the positive efforts that have and continue to be done on the ground in Victoria Falls during these times of adversity,” she said.
“The focus to date, under the guidance of our Victoria Falls Covid-19 taskforce, has primarily been on ensuring every effort is made in terms of preparedness and response to the pandemic which has included disinfecting and sanitising the town, establishing isolation centres and an ICU, providing effective support to the Victoria Falls community through awareness campaigns, mask and sanitiser distribution, food growing schemes and providing food security support to vulnerable households.”
On a regional scale, another initiative that started in January, the Victoria Falls Regional Tourism Association, the first multi-country marketing campaign entirely driven by the private sector to promote the KAZA countries with Victoria Falls as the core product, has been working to promote the destination.
Botswana based Victoria Falls Regional Tourism Association chief executive officer Ms Jillian Blackbeard said 11 companies around the world are working with them at no charge on strategies to facilitate tourism recovery.
She said they organised a Virtual Travel Trade Show that started yesterday and will end tomorrow to promote the destination which they are referring to as Africa’s Eden.”
On the use of Victoria Falls by Kaza countries as their tourism trump card, she said: “The organisation was formed by its members who are in the region. The brand ‘The Victoria Falls’ reflects the gateway and heart of the Kaza region and as a brand name, it is already well established in the minds of the consumer and the travel trade. Africa’s Eden refers to Kaza and the adjacent wildlife areas that were not included in the geographical boundaries such as Matopos and Tuli.”
Ms Blackbeard said some experts are predicting that it will take the tourism industry up to three years to reach the pre-Covid-19 levels.
“Tourism in Kaza, like the rest of the world, has been very hard hit by Covid-19 lockdown measures and border closures.
“The industry in general is only looking to begin recovery in 2021, starting with domestic travel, moving to regional and then finally international arrivals leading to recovery,” she said.