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Covid-19: Tourism’s joys, sorrows of 2021

THE curtain has come down on 2021, but the scars may take long to heal for the tourism and hospitality, industry which continued to be battered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Covid-19 has negatively affected international tourist arrivals, which according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO reduced by 85 percent between January and May 2021 while an increase of 58 percent was recorded in the period July-September 2021 compared to the same period of 2020.

Arrivals slowed by 72 percent during the first half of 2021, taking the country 30 years back to the 1991 levels, when the industry almost got grounded.

According to the latest UNWTO data, international tourist arrivals are expected to remain at 70 percent to 75 percent below 2019 levels. The pandemic upset profitability across the tourism sector, as it resulted in the cancellation of already pre-scheduled hunts and other major hunting trade shows during the year.

2021 Improvement

The year 2021 saw an improvement in tourism arrivals globally, the pace of recovery however, remains slow and uneven across world regions due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates, and traveller confidence.

The improvement especially in the third quarter of 2021 was driven by increased traveller confidence amid rapid progress on vaccinations and the easing of entry restrictions in many destinations.

There was a glimpse of hope by mid 2021 in Zimbabwe. Rainbow Tourism Group (RTG), which operates Rainbow Towers Hotel, A’Zambezi River Lodge, Victoria Falls Rainbow, Bulawayo Rainbow Hotel, New Ambassador Hotel and Kadoma Rainbow Hotel showed signs of recovery after recording 4 percent increase in room occupancy, relying on domestic tourism from mid-March to June 2021.

This trend defied odds, as the hospitality group benefited from relaxed Covid-19 restrictions and currency stability in the country, which undoubtedly promoted domestic tourism, digressing from reliance on traditional source markets where potential tourists remained subject to international travel disruptions.

“In the short term, domestic travel will continue to drive our economy,” said African Sun in one of its financial statements during the year.

According to African Sun, the fall in Covid-19 cases across the globe by mid-2021 led to a partial return to normalcy in key source markets like the UK and the US, and that signalled a new dawn in the fight against the deadly pandemic.

Investments

The Covid-19 pandemic, particularly the Omicron variant, which surfaced towards the end of the year did not stop players in the tourism and hospitality sector from winning.

Minister of Environment, Climate Change, Tourism, and Hospitality Industry Mangaliso Ndlovu, said more than US$100 million had been invested in new tourism investments since January 2021.

This comprised investments in new hotels, lodges, restaurants, and conference facilities countrywide, with the highest concentration being in Victoria Falls where 73 roomed Palm River Hotel a signature investment was made.

Zambezi Boutique invested US$1 million towards sprucing up its product while Nkosi Guest Lodge pumped in a similar amount on refurbishments.

The highlight for the year was the completion of a US$24, 6 million Palm River Hotel In November, a sign that there remain abundant opportunities for investment in the industry.

The four-star facility, which is a partnership between Old Mutual and Spencer Creek (a well-known tourism establishment) is a world-class facility found on the coast of the Zambezi River.

All the three have opened their doors to the public and were constructed during the Covid-19 induced lockdown period, which was a show of resilience.

Initiatives to prop up the sector

During the year stakeholders in the tourism and hospitality sector continued to craft ways of marketing the country as a prime tourism destination. To that end, Zimbabwe actively promoted cooperation with other tourism markets, including agreements signed with Rwanda.

Also, Qatar Airlines took its inaugural flight to Zimbabwe, representing a colossal movement in the positive for the country’s tourism and aviation industries.

Plying the Harare-Doha route by Qatar Airlines is of great significance to Zimbabwe, and it is likely to improve the number of visitors from the Middle East as Zimbabwe provides one of the best climates for vacationing.

In 2019 Zimbabwe received just under 10 000 people coming from that region while 3 000 visitors arrived from this region. In The Middle East, Qatar experienced extremely high temperatures during the summer period, which normally starts in March and many Qatar citizens fly out to tourists’ resorts across the world.

Vaccinations

UNWTO has continuously reiterated that the safe resumption of international tourism will continue to depend on a coordinated response among countries on travel restrictions, harmonised health, and hygiene protocols, and effective communication.

Joining the band is the local tourism sector which continues to bank on accelerated vaccination programmes around the world to ease restrictions for vaccinated travellers.

Hoteliers are of the view that vaccination will contribute to the gradual normalisation of travel and tourism which is a key aspect to the industry resurgence.

The direct economic contribution of tourism globally is estimated at US$ 1,9 trillion in 2021 (measured in tourism direct gross domestic product) well below the pre-pandemic value of US$3,5 trillion thus a need to continue crafting ways to protect the industry which is considered a low hanging fruit worldwide.

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