Domestic tourism expected to take the lead post Covid-19

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The scenic, relaxing view by the pool side at Montclair Hotel and Casino in Nyanga.

…Montclair Hotel in fake news for sale gimmick

Ngoni Dapira

IN Zimbabwe, tourism is one of the hardest hit economic sectors by the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic given that most countries closed their borders to restrict foreign travel. Similarly the mandatory lockdown measures have also frustrated domestic tourism, especially MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) tourism, which is the biggest cash cow for most hoteliers.

Tourism operators in Zimbabwe last week Tuesday during a Zimbabwe Tourism Authority post Covid-19 tourism recovery strategy stakeholder meeting held in Harare, which was live streamed, said the game changer will be domestic tourism, but a collective approach will be needed to lure international tourists in the country and ensure Covid-19 threats would have been contained in the sector. When Zimbabwe entered level two of the lockdown most hotels opened but parks and wildlife as well as other recreational activities tourism operators remain closed.

ZTA said in 2017, Zimbabwe’s tourist arrivals stood at 2,4 million and the year that followed the statistics continued on a positive growth trajectory to 2.57 million  before going down last year by 11 percent to 2,29 million mostly due to destination image issues.

ZTA acting chief executive officer, Givemore Chidzidzi, said urgent stakeholder interventions were needed to positively market the country and lure increased arrivals.

“The decline in the occupancy level was as a result of the harsh economic climate, which has also resulted in increases in prices, the locals cannot afford to travel and we have noticed that domestic tourism is depressed. The tourism sector is presently not spared from the macro-economic challenges relating to cash shortages, energy and power constraints. All these challenges need to be addressed, they are not in our hands hence we have got our partners and stakeholders whom we think will address some of these challenges,” said Chidzidzi.

The tourism operators said the growth trajectory is direly needed, but urged Government to immediately step in and reduce the cost of doing business for companies to remain operational during and after the covid-19 blitz, otherwise many company closures and more job cuts would be the end result. Many hoteliers said essential enabling services such as wifi, electricity and water were currently highly priced and must be reduced for viability during the trying times under the pandemic.

Worldwide job cuts have been the sad outcome of covid-19 and in Zimbabwe this is also already happening. In the tourism sector a lot of prominent hotels and lodges have already reportedly terminated jobs for contract employees to keep a lean staff of full-time employees, given the unforeseeable future due to the covid-19 pandemic.

Given the need for positive destination image promotion in the tourism sector pronounced by Chidzidzi, false news speculations pause a great threat during and post Covid-19. Nyanga’s Montclair Hotel and Casino recently faced a fake news hoax that it was for sale, but the hotel’s general manager Brian Nyakutomba has since dismissed it as fake news.

Montclair Hotel garden yard area at night.

This affirmation came after the fake news article circulated on social media early this month, claiming that the Nyanga based hotel was for sale for US$15 million including its casino.  In some WhatsApp groups heated debates even erupted with some interested businesspeople seriously considering the advertorial fake news post.

“Montclair we are not the authors of that article. Someone gleaned all that info (information) from social media, and simply put a price tag,” said Nyakutomba in an interview with Easterntimeszim Business.

Adding, “Suffice to say that we operate in an open market where everything has a price, and should there be someone out there willing to make an offer, I am sure the owners of the business would be prepared to lend an ear. Otherwise we are still in business and planning for the way forward.”

Nyakutomba said for now Montclair has not dismissed any employees but the impact of covid-19 on business is visibly piercing and very tough to manage.

“It’s difficult times that no business had seen in advance. So companies are doing all they can to stay alive whilst also attempting to preserve livelihoods and staff welfare as much as possible. It’s a delicate balancing act that can have some not so comfortable outcomes as entities try to balance the survival equation. Our plan is to comply with the guidelines from the Government of Zimbabwe on the resumption of commercial activities and we are praying that the health situation continues to improve, so that we can start trading in a safe and manageable environment,” said Nyakutomba.

According to Wikipedia fake news is a form of news consisting of deliberate disinformation spread via traditional news media or online social media. However, it is the invent of digital news that has brought back and increased the usage of fake news. With fake news proliferating on social media, access to quality news and information can be a matter of life and death and this might lead to alarm and despondency that threatens even national security.

Following the declaration by President Emmerson Mnangagwa of a national lockdown in Zimbabwe, SI 83 of 2020 was enacted and Section 14 of the regulation seeks to address the spread of what is termed false news. This was a timely intervention by government as people were recklessly altering official documents to spread fake news, which caused confusion.

The law provides as follows: “For the avoidance of doubt any person who publishes or communicates false news about any public officer, official or enforcement officer involved with enforcing or implementing the national lockdown in his or her capacity as such, or about any private individual that has the effect of prejudicing the State’s enforcement of the national lockdown, shall be liable for prosecution under Section 31 of the Criminal Law Code (“Publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the State”) and liable to the penalty there provided, that is to say a fine up to or exceeding level fourteen or imprisonment for a period not exceeding twenty years or both.”

Sanganai/Hlanganani Expo international buyers at the Skywalk at Mtarazi Falls last year.

Tourism was promising to enter a boom in the eastern bloc before the covid 19 struck, this was evident by the  increase in the number of travel agency businesses that started setting up offices in Mutare. Tourism operators in the Eastern Highlands have over the years complained about being kept in the shadows, when the region has the potential to be the biggest tourist attraction bloc because of its diverse tourism activities to offer, such as the Bridalveil Falls in Chimanimani, the enchanting Nyangombe Falls in Nyanga, hiking at Mt Nyangani up to the summit, the skywalk and zipline at Mtarazi Falls, experiencing the breathtaking views of tea plantations in Honde Valley and the scenic Vumba to mention a few. Lack of vigorous destination marketing and promotion activities and direct air connectivity to Mutare, the capital city in the province, have remained one of the biggest stumbling blocks despite loud calls made for the relevant authorities to step in and assist.

The Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu speaking at the post Covid-19 tourism recovery strategy meeting said going forward, although the pandemic is still far from over, after the covid-19 pandemic, a new framework that is holistic is needed to map a way forward.

“We need a framework that will not leave anyone behind, big or small. Through these meetings we have already started consulting on the successive framework for the TSP (Transitional Stabilisation Programme). We will need to address connectivity bottlenecks for domestic travelers and high pricing for domestic travelers,” said Minister Ndlovu.

The tourism strategic plan will inform the National Development Strategy plan by Government.



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