SMEs in Tourism post Covid-19

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Before Covid-19, tourism was one of the fastest growing economic sectors in Zimbabwe and according to government’s Transitional Stabilisation Programme it was projected to generate US$5 billion in receipts and to create over 300 000 jobs directly and indirectly by end of 2020.

Tourism, because of Covid-19 is also considered the most vulnerable industry compared to other sectors.

This is evidenced by the current situation where the industry was grounded to a complete halt when the pandemic started spreading to Africa.

SMEs which are known to be mostly small and with a hand to mouth operations, suddenly found themselves without any income. The SMEs operators contributed before the pandemic, more than 75 percent of Zimbabwe’s tourism economic output in areas such as restaurants, travel agents, lodges, safaris, entertainment and curio shops.

Research has revealed that this pandemic is causing economic despair through worsening the country’s unemployment, loss of revenue to the government and increase of poverty levels in the country.

In an effort to mitigate the impacts of coronavirus on tourism industry, the government has allocated a US$20 million stimulus package.

This government’s intervention to alleviate the bloodbath is a positive development for the sector. It is now up to the industry players to reinvent the sector. The aim of this article is to find out how the government and the industry players can cooperate to mitigate damages from the pandemic. The discussion shall revolve around the following areas;
Digitisation

This is an option that SME players in the industry cannot afford to overlook. It is acknowledged that the SME category is a broad one as it encompasses businesses which vary in size and financial resources.

However, within this continuum there are SMEs for whom it is feasible to start contemplating on the need to digitise their operations and product offerings if they are to continue to survive. In other words, this calls for a shift to virtual tourism which implies that tourists can consume a company’s products in Zimbabwe while they are in other parts of the world.

It is noted that digitisation may not be implemented in one fell-swoop. However, a start has to be made somewhere. For example, in the travel subsector holiday and travel bookings can be made online without the need to visit brick and mortar facilities. Some countries have opened up their skies without the traditional face to face interaction with service providers. The government can also play a catalytic role to ensure that digitisation begins to take route in the SME tourism sector through online education and training of players in this sector.

Domestic tourism
The over-reliance and dependency on foreign tourists has had some negative consequences on the tourism sector. The impact of the pandemic has more than ever dramatised the need for the tourism sector to reinvent itself by giving due weight to domestic tourism.

There is need to revisit the government’s blueprint on domestic tourism and where appropriate spruce it up in line with the prevailing tourist situation on the ground since the emergence of Covid-19.

It is envisaged that once the lockdown is lifted, intercity and provincial travel will commence thus providing the much needed boost to domestic tourism. Tourist resort places like Victoria Falls should adjust, embrace and encourage local tourists.

Analysts predict that the shutdowns, lockdowns and international flights ban in Zimbabwe’s main tourism source markets such as China, the US and some western countries makes it difficult for people to imagine travelling in the next 12 to 24 months.

Leadership
Traditionally players within the economy including the tourism sector, are used to competing against each other. While competition is good and healthy since it encourages the development of the best possible product offerings to the customer, this competition can be harmful if it is done at the expense of positive collaboration.

Players in the SME sector need to put their heads together and identify areas where they can work together to increase their bottom line in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. This means that players need to be resourceful, agile, innovative and proactive in order to scout for opportunities that can be converted into viable projects.

From the above, it can be seen that there are areas that need the attention of SMEs and government to turn around this sector. Where someone saw a mere wheelbarrow, someone looking at the same contraption saw a mode of transport.

The question then is, in the light of Covid-19, what do SMEs see in the tourism sector? Every crisis brings with it opportunities and it is therefore up to the players in this sector to ferret and take advantage of these opportunities and reimagine the tourism sector.

Bernard Gwarada is a Tourism industry player and a research candidate in International Business at University of Pretoria’s GIBS Business School. He writes in his own capacity.-chronicle.c.zw

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