Surge in local Covid-19 cases worries tourism players

Victoria Falls – THE upsurge in local Covid-19 cases is likely to cripple all efforts being put in place to promote domestic tourism in the country, players in the tourism sector have said.

Although Government recently partially opened the tourism industry by allowing restaurants and safari operators among other facilities to open for domestic clients, the rise in local infections could reverse the gains.

Industry players are now worried that the high hopes by hotels and lodges, tour operators and restaurants for revitalization of the sector through domestic tourism, are almost being shattered by the sudden surge in confirmed positive cases of Covid-19.

The concerns come as local transmissions are spiking, with a total of 2 512 including 518 recoveries and 34 deaths that had been recorded as of Tuesday this week.

This follows events where a number of public institutions such as courts, police stations, prisons, hospitals and some private entities have been hit by the global pandemic. On Monday Parliament indefinitely suspended public hearings and sittings after two MPs tested positive for Covid-19 during a field visit across the country. On Friday and Saturday the delegation was booked at a local hotel in Victoria Falls, raising fears in the tourism sector.

Sources at the hotel said all staff members were tested on Monday and told to self-isolate. Industry executives said they were worried by the development, which leaves the sector hard pressed to balance between national health needs and the future of tourism.

Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe (TBCZ) president, Ms Winnie Muchanyuka, said the impact will be severe to the tourism industry.

“Balancing between national health concerns and survival of tourism businesses is indeed a tough call. The growing cases will impact the drive for domestic tourism as Government will tighten restrictions on movement and those that were likely to travel may also become weary as they are mindful of the spread of the virus,” she said.

“The virus will be with us for a while and while as industry players we have health protocols and personal protective clothing, education remains critical that both Government and business should instill confidence in the general populous that life can still continue if we practice the recommendations coming out of the World Health Organisation and our local healthy institutions,” she said.

Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) chair for Victoria Falls chapter Mr Anald Musonza concurred.

He urged every citizen to play a part in flattening the curve.

“We have noted with concern the increasing local Covid-19 infections and its effects on the domestic tourism drive we have adopted as an industry. This second wave seems to be much more deadly than the first wave as the cases are increasing rapidly,” he said.

“We must all take our part in flattening the curve or else we will lose lives and a lot of businesses may collapse. We appeal to all citizens to take to lockdown restrictions seriously so that we don’t expose ourselves to this serious pandemic and bring negative effects to our efforts to revive our hospitality and tourism industry.”

The industry expects that cases would remain subdued and instill confidence in domestic tourism, which had over the years been overlooked, with Government now geared to capacitate it.

Employers Association for the Tourism and Safari Operators national president, Mr Clement Mukwasi, said domestic tourism was a good stimulus for resuscitation of the tourism industry if operators come up with Covid-19 sensitive prices.

“The impact of partial opening was quite low because as long as borders are closed the tourism industry doesn’t necessarily operate viably. Furthermore, the time partial opening occurred intercity travel was still banned. People within destinations don’t have money to enjoy facilities,” he said.

“For Victoria Falls the town is gutted, employees were retrenched and most companies did not open hence resources are constricted. We, therefore, await a drop in the figures of infection and the opening of intercity travel for us to focus on domestic tourism as we also closely monitor events on the international market.”

Mr Mukwasi implored companies to come up with pricing models and packages sensitive to income levels of Zimbabweans, saying it should not be business as usual for companies post Covid-19.–

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