Airlines crisis pulls back arrivals 90%

DECISIONS by governments across the world to ground airlines and restrict international travel pushed foreign tourist arrivals into Zimbabwe down by 90% this year, the biggest plunge in 40 years.

BY SHAME MAKOSHORI

The sector had projected to scale up arrivals by 30%, riding on improved access after major airport revamps and aggressive forays into the world’s richest source markets.

But in a newsletter that extensively reviewed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the travel industry, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) exposes how the sector’s darkest patch almost grounded the economy after losing US$1 billion.

The good news is, the industry regulator said tourism had begun the first steps towards its much-awaited bounce back.

For now, however, a stronger recovery may not be guaranteed as the pandemic has been making fresh inroads into the country, with health officials reporting upsurges in new cases over the past 14 days.

But Godfrey Koti, head of corporate affairs at ZTA, said strict compliance to World Health Organisation guidelines would remain in force at tourist resorts, possibly giving travellers confidence about their safety.

Some airlines have already returned.

“Zimbabwe’s tourism sector, as with many industries, is slowly staggering to a new-normal after a tumultuous few months of uncertainty,” Koti says, writing in the newsletter.

“The tourism sector is a major foreign currency earner, generating just over US$1,3 billion from 2, 5 million tourist arrivals recorded in 2018.

The freezing of international and domestic travel has significantly impacted tourism, destabilising a forecasted 30% growth in domestic tourism by end of 2020.”

During the period under review, international tourist arrivals in Zimbabwe declined by between 30% and 90%, making a loss of close to US$1 billion in tourism receipts.

However, the recovery of the key foreign currency earner has been gaining momentum with various tourism players throughout the country re-opening facilities in strict compliance with the Covid-19 health protocols.

On the other hand, government recently exempted value-added tax on all tourism services for domestic tourists in a bid to reduce the prices being charged for tourism products and services.

“Government has also opened up areas for tourism development to allow for product innovation and diversification in the form of cultural tourism, recreational areas and resort developments,” Koti noted.

New destinations being developed to drive up arrivals include Tugwi-Mukosi, the country’s biggest inland dam opened about two years ago, and the Kanyemba district in northeastern Zimbabwe.

The ZTA is also aggressively marketing destinations like Osborne Dam in Manicaland and Zambezi riverfront attractions like Binga and Kariba.

“ZTA will continue to roll out campaigns to market Zimbabwe’s tourism and reassure source markets that destination Zimbabwe remains a destination of choice,” he said.

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