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Curio Trading Suffers Blow Amidst COVID-19

Curio vending business suffered a major blow in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Image by Christobel Travel

BY LETHOKUHLE NKOMO | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | NOV 2, 2022

Before the emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic, curio trading was a booming business as a result of the influx of tourists into the country. In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the business suffered a major blow, and now curio vendors are finding the going tough.

HWANGE (The Citizen Bulletin) — Edward Phiri rushes to every car that stops at a lay-by sign along the Victoria fall-Hwange Highway. He runs carrying curios art work of the big five animals and tries to negotiate the price of his artefact upwards to no avail as his potential customer refuses to nudge.

For the past 3 years Phiri has been trying to go back to the curio vending but it has been difficult for him to do the once booming business profitably. Curio sales which largely rely on tourist buyers, dropped drastically at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and now Phiri and others in the sector are struggling to stabilise their businesses.

Phiri says due to lock-downs in Europe and travel restrictions in Zimbabwe, tourists from countries like the Netherlands, Germany, England, and Iceland among others, were not travelling to Hwange National Park where they also purchase the curios on their way back.

Although COVID-19 has receded the situation remains the same for Phiri and this has taken away his livelihoods and many other curio vendors to the extent that they are failing to sustain their families.

“Before COVID-19, things were moving so well. I could afford to send my children to boarding schools as I used to make a lot of money from tourists.”

“But with COVID-19 travel restrictions we stayed for months without even  a single tourist travelling to the Hwange National Park, no one was buying our products,” says Phiri.

Although the central government once announced partial re-opening of the tourism industry for domestic clients, curio vendors say domestic tourists did not have the spending power of foreign visitors and lacked the curio tastes of their counterparts from abroad.

But it's not all gloom for Phiri and his counterparts.

Mejury Ndlovu (32) who trades at Jambezi turncraft centre along the Victoria Falls-Hwange highway, a place that is very well known for its range of curios, says most traders in curios are beginning to see some slow positive changes in terms of sales.

The number of international travellers coming to Hwange is slowly improving, something that is helping boost tourism and curio trade.

“We now have some international visitors coming through to buy curios. This is good for us whose livelihoods depend on the sale of curios as the majority of our customers are foreign visitors”
Mejury Ndlovu, a curio vendor

According to the United Nation World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), an unprecedented global health, social and economic emergency which came with the COVID-19 pandemic, affected travel and tourism immensely with airbuses on the ground, hotels closed and travel restrictions put in place in virtually all countries around the world.

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Clement Mukwasi a Tourism Executive says although business has been moving at a snail pace for curio vendors, there is light at the end of the tunnel as the tourism industry is slowly opening up.

“A lot of tourist usually flock into Hwange district for both Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park as well as a number of tourist destination, there is what we call revenge travel, people have been locked for too long a time and with the easing of travel restrictions, we are going to have more tourist from different directions of the world,” says Mukwasi.

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