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Residents say the high cost of activities in Victoria Falls deprive them (locals) the opportunity to participate in local tourism.
Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Victoria Falls raised much of its revenue from foreign tourism. The dry spell caused by the effects of the pandemic has forced players to reimagine local tourism.
HWANGE (The Citizen Bulletin) — The resort City of Victoria Falls was one of the most hard-hit communities in Hwange during COVID-19 lockdowns. The city’s economy is hinged on tourism, mainly traveling and outdoor activities.
Tourism generates foreign exchange, supports jobs and businesses, drives regional development, and underpins local communities. Tourism is highly labour intensive and provides a high volume of jobs for low skilled workers, together with higher skilled jobs. Experts say the crisis placed hundreds of jobs in the sector at risk.
Jairos Shoko, a resident, says the high cost of activities in Victoria Falls deprives locals the opportunity to participate in local tourism, a situation he attributes to the effects of COVID-19.
“Generally, tourism is very expensive in Zimbabwe and worse in Victoria Falls because of high demand. Tourism players in the resort city for the past years inclined more towards foreigners and never imagined that locals within Zimbabwe can be their clients. COVID-19 exposed this poor planning.”
Maxwell Ncube, a tourist guide
Ncube says it is sad that most people from within the district fail to spend time in Victoria Falls and other tourist destinations in Hwange district.
“They have never set foot in the resort city. This is regardless of Victoria Falls being one of the world’s destination choices,” Ncube adds.
In 2020 the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimated a 70% decline year-on-year in international tourist arrivals in the first eight months of the year, with the loss in export revenues from international tourism eight times that recorded in 2009 amid the global financial crisis. UNWTO forecasted a decline in international arrivals close to 70%, with recovery to pre-crisis levels not expected before 2023.
During COVID-19 lockdowns flights were suspended and hotels were closed resulting in the stoppage of safari trips, hunting and other related activities.
Itai Mutale, a marketing agent for a local travel agent says that the failure of industry players to embrace local tourism was a missed opportunity for a homegrown solution to sustain the industry without foreign visitors.
“The relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions was a blessing in disguise, but the industry failed to take advantage of the situation to boost local tourism. With cheap prices locals could be encouraged to visit. It was better than to completely close the shop,” says Mutale.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the accommodation and food services sub sectors alone globally provides employment for 144 million workers, about 30% of whom are employed in small tourism businesses with 2–9 employees. Many of these jobs are customer-facing, exposing workers also to the health risks from the virus.
Destinations that rely heavily on international, business and events tourism like Victoria Falls struggled.
Few tourist destinations in Zimbabwe which had fully embraced domestic tourism used the intervals when restrictions were being relaxed to restart and help to mitigate the impact on jobs and businesses.
Without government’s support, the survival of businesses throughout the tourism ecosystem was at risk. Mutale says despite some interventions by the government to minimise job losses and build recovery more needs to be done.
“At the time there was a need to support long-run strategies like supporting tourism businesses to adapt and survive. Promoting domestic tourism and supporting safe return of international tourism was essential. Players in the industry must build more resilient, sustainable tourism.”
Itai Mutale, a marketing agent for a local travel agent
Economic analysts say the crisis was an opportunity to rethink tourism for the future in the post COVID-19 era.
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“Tourism was at a crossroads and the measures put in place were to shape the tourism of tomorrow. Governments need to consider the longer-term implications of the crisis, while promoting the structural transformation needed to build a stronger, more sustainable, and resilient tourism economy,” says Innocent Saruchera, an economic analyst.
Last year, Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister, Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndhlovu said domestic travel has rebounded through the ZimBho/IzimYami Campaign since 2020.The minister says the government aims to have a tourism master plan for each province to boost domestic tourism.
“Our people must have opportunities to visit facilities that are within reach, and these must offer top-class services to grow the sector into a US$5-billion-dollar industry,” says Ndlovu.
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