Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister, Walter Mzembi has said a 16% growth in tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2016 is confirmation of growth of the sector.
BY TARISAI MANDIZHA
According to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) first quarter report, tourist arrivals rose to 450 572 from 387 557 recorded during the same period last year. The increase in the numbers was recorded in arrivals from all the source markets except the Oceania.
Mzembi said the growth in the tourism sector was sign posted by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa in his 2015/2016 national budget presentation where he stated that the sector was going to lead in projected sectorial growth by 4,1% ahead of mining, agriculture, manufacturing and others.
“We are happy we have done considerably well and relatively better than the same period in 2014 and 2015,” he said.
“My plea is that we continue to sustain the peace and stability that has endured this growth because it is the most critical success factor for a performing tourism product.”
The minister said traditionally, the first quarter of the year recorded a depressed performance but the first quarter of 2016 bucked the trend.
“We anticipate better performance going forward. I must still underscore that the peace dividend is our number one product because it doesn’t matter how attractive our destination is, but the moment it starts communicating conflicts, the travelling public revises its perception of the destination and automatically its itineraries which translated to 16% growth will be reconsidered,” he said.
He said the reason why the growth in arrivals did not translate to the desired growth in room occupancies was non-stays by tourists, where decisions were made in the context of the behavior of currencies. He said when the dollar firms against the South African rand, visitors would opt to stay with friends and relatives instead of hotels.
Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe president George Manyumwa said while the growth in the tourism sector was positive, the desired effect of growth in room occupancies was not achieved.
“Whilst the growth is positive, desired effects of growth in room occupancies were not achieved. This probably demonstrates that some of the tourists were either staying with friends and relatives or in unregistered facilities,” Manyumwa said.
He said the tourism growth should be sustainable if the country was to address the cost of doing business that had a direct impact on pricing.
He said Zimbabwe was overpriced compared to regional neighbours, making it uncompetitive.
Manyumwa said the industry anticipated further growth as the first quarter was usually the most depressed and that the ease of doing business was likely to be tough in response to an economy that was not performing well.
According to the ZTA report, not all tourists ended up in hotels as the bulk of them from mainland Africa resorted “to very cheap sources of accommodation in lodges as well as friends and relatives”.
According to the report, arrivals from mainland Africa increased by 11% to 380 790 from 343 644 in 2015. Most African countries, with the exception of South Africa, Zambia, DRC and Tanzania, recorded increases during the quarter under review.
South Africa and DRC fell marginally by 2% and 4% respectively, while Zambia and Tanzania fell substantially by 16% and 20% respectively.
The national average hotel room occupancy rate decreased to 36% during the period from 38% in the comparable period last year.
The report showed that Harare had the highest average room occupancy rate of 53% followed by Victoria Falls, Midlands, Mutare/Vumba and Nyanga.
In the period under review, the 53% occupancy rate for Harare was achieved through promotions on room rates offered by major hotel groups, without which the occupancies could have been lower, the report said.
“Observations have also shown that many foreign tourists visiting the Victoria Falls are entering through Kazungula and Victoria Falls border posts for single night stays and day trips, largely showing that they are avoiding staying in Zimbabwe.
“It means Zimbabwe is a secondary destination to them. If this phenomenon increases, it will further affect the performance of the sector as Victoria Falls is the hub of foreign tourism,” it said.
“This requires implementation of robust marketing programmes by Zimbabwe in key source markets.”