BY FIDELITY MHLANGA
Zimbabwean tourism players have welcomed the re-introduction of domestic and international flights following a six-month haitus due to the outbreak of Covid-19, but have appealed for tax breaks to aid recovery of the sector.
Domestic flights resumed last week while international flights will restart on October 1.
Tourists that would have tested negative for Covid-19 within 48 hours of their travel will not be required to go into quarantine centres.
Clive Chinwada, the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe president, said the reopening of the skies was long overdue as travelling restrictions were crippling the tourism and hospitality sector.
“The opening-up of the skies for domestic flights from the 10th of September and international flights from the 1st of October is a welcome development,” Chinwada said.
“Access is a critical enabler for travel, tourism and hospitality and the non-availability of flights in the past few months and the general travel restrictions have been crippling to our industry.”
Chinwada said the government should lift the ban on intercity travel, which was now the missing link for domestic tourism.
“The measures are necessary to bring back travel confidence,” he added.
“This will, however, not necessarily translate to an immediate flurry of activity as there are a number of other issues that will face the sector.
“ For example, Victoria Falls is largely an international destination and international travellers generally require months and in most cases years to plan their tours.
“In the case of domestic travel, events generally drive demand and a lot of events have already been postponed to 2021 as a result of Covid-19-induced uncertainty.”
Chinwada said while the sector would come up with initiatives to ensure survival, there were macroeconomic issues that needed to be addressed such as the general competitiveness of the economy in order to assist travel and tourism to emerge out of the crisis.
The recovery by the sector would take years, hence government would have to continuously review policies that affect the sector with bias towards financial stimulus.
“Our cost structure is affected by a plethora of taxes and licensing requirements that the sector has to contend with,” Chinwada said.
“As such, the cost of doing business needs to be addressed as our research points to a situation where this regime of taxation and licensing is incomparable to any other destination in the region.”
Emmanuel Fundira, the chairman of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, said the Covid-19 restrictions gave the country’s wildlife sector time to recover.
“The opening of domestic and international flights is something we welcome greatly in our sector,” Fundira said.
“You will also be surprised to hear that wildlife has been thriving because of lack of disturbances since March up to now.
“The amount of wildlife, which we now have is so significant and it’s arousing a lot of appetite among would-be visitors.
“In as much as we only have the last quarter of the year left, we have people who have been making enquiries about travelling to Zimbabwe.”
He echoed Chinwada’s sentiments of calling upon authorities to defer certain fees to increase the country’s competitiveness.
“We would like to see international flights like Emirates return, which give us that kind of endorsement as an international destination,” Fundira said.
“As the country reopens, we must defer some of the harsh fees and even reduce them especially landing fees at our airports so that we create an appetite for international flights to come to Zimbabwe.”
African countries have restarted their economies with Egypt reopening its borders for tourism at seaside resorts as of July.
Sierra Leone’s international airport reopened for commercial flights on July 22 and the Democratic Republic of the Congo reopened land borders and airports on August 15.
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation recently noted that the global travel industry had been hard hit by Covid-19, with international tourist arrivals envisaged to plunge by between 60% and 80% this year, translating to a loss of up to US$1,2 trillion.
Up to 120 million global jobs that are directly related to tourism are at risk in one of the worst crises to hit international tourism.
This year the tourism sector is envisaged to decline by 40%.
Zimbabwe received 2,4 million international tourists last year, down from 2,6 million arrivals in 2018.