THE tourism industry across the world has been ravaged by COVID-19 scourge and, to avoid total collapse, stakeholders have begun engaging to find survival strategies.
The country’s Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu, speaking during a post-COVID-19 tourism recovery consultative meeting, said domestic tourism had to take centre stage to resuscitate the industry currently in comatose due to the lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of the virus.
Despite many nations easing their lockdowns, travelling will not be a priority as the cure for the virus is yet to be found.
Stakeholders have been encouraged to prioritise the domestic market and add product diversification into the mix.
“Obviously, we are expecting that international tourism will take some bit of time to recover and we are looking at domestic tourism as an immediate source of relief. We were able to look at critical issues that are inhibiting the growth of domestic tourism. We then looked at what needs to be done. We tackled issues to do with providing support structures. The sector highlighted that there are other enablers, there are other players who are providing services to the sector whose rates are quite high. They made mention of local authorities, electricity rates and the like,” said Minister Ndlovu.
“This mandates us… to see how best we can collaborate to drive down the cost, so that our locals can begin to travel but we are saying that’s the first phase of recovery, domestic tourism. Beyond that, we are seeing regional tourism coming back thankfully as a region we are really not hard hit by COVID-19. We remain alert. We’re not going to be complacent but so far, we believe that we have reasonable numbers. It might not take long before the regional tourism roars into life, so we are getting ready for that as well.”
The Minister said the lockdown had presented players with an opportunity to spruce up the product.
“In the medium-to-long-term, we are looking at our airports opening for the international space. What I want to emphasise again is that in the discussion, we were quite clear that we don’t want to restore tourism as it was. We want the best case scenario; we believe Zimbabwe is a very beautiful country. We have not been getting the best out of our tourism. So, we have taken this opportunity to look at other areas where we can do better, service excellence, how we treat our clients. We also have to be unlocking other domestic destinations which are currently inaccessible either through air or road. We want a better and bigger tourism industry as we recover from the pandemic and as we march towards 2030,” said Minister Ndhlovu.
The meeting drew participants from several sectors including Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Ministry, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, Finance Ministry, Transport Ministry, Youths in Tourism, Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe as well as the Hospitality industry.
The tourism industry, according to players, has been hit hardest by COVID-19 and they have called for timely disbursement of the ZWL$500 million stimulus package by Government.
Tourism players also advocated wider collaborations among themselves rather than competing against each other.
Players agreed to revisit their pricing structures if significant inroads are to be made in domestic tourism.
Currently, the product is priced beyond the reach of locals, making it a luxury only afforded by a few.
However, stakeholders concur that it is thriving domestic tourism that can lure international travellers.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been no international travelling for leisure as the aviation sector has been grounded due to worldwide lockdowns.
Stakeholders agreed that, for domestic tourism to thrive, there is need for the national airline to become operational.
While the pandemic hampered operations of the national airline, it also provided an opportunity for Air Zimbabwe to revive its fleet which is set to service the domestic routes.
Meanwhile, arts and craft practitioners also called on Government to consider opening up spaces to act as markets and exhibitions centres for artistes while observing the physical distancing regulations.
According to Zimbabwe Tourism Authority head corporate affairs, the tourism strategic plan will be used to inform the National Development Strategy plan by Government.