Before COVID-19 hit the world, more than 350,000 people per year made their way to the Zimbabwean side of one of the world’s natural wonders, Victoria Falls. Since then, people have barely visited the waterfall.
Zimbabwe recorded its first COVID-19 case a year ago – a resident of the tourist town. Since the first outbreak, the country has recorded more than 1,500 COVID-19-related deaths and about 37,000 infections since March 2020.
There has been a rollout of vaccines across the globe and residents of Victoria Falls have high hopes that the vaccine could bring back the much-needed tourism the town has been missing. For some businesses, it will take more than just a vaccine to recoup the losses in a country that has been in distress of a severe economic crisis.
In Zimbabwe the first batch of vaccines was targeted at 60,000 healthcare and other frontline workers but only 44,000 of them have been vaccinated so far.
In a symbolic move aimed at promoting tourism recovery, President Emmerson Mnangagwa travelled to Victoria Falls to get his shot last week Wednesday and since then, residents of the tourist town have been queuing up to get their shots too.
Travel consultant, Moreblessing Khumalo said although she was afraid of the side effects, she had no choice but to take the vaccine because of her line of work.
‘I’m scared, but there’s no other way we can do this,’ she said. She added that ‘people need to go back to work and others need to reopen their businesses.’
Since airlines have resumed their flights to Victoria Falls it is only vital that people in tourism get their vaccinations sooner than later.
However, some have said Zimbabwe’s tourism needs more than just a vaccination shot to get back on track.
According to Aljezeera, the Zimbabwean government announced a US$5.8m scheme that will see the government provide a 50 percent loan guarantee for businesses in the tourism sector. The move met criticism by opposition figures, who described it as risky and cautioned that struggling taxpayers could be forced to foot the bill if the companies defaulted’
Others are rooting that all businesses in hospitality should be covered by the loan facility.
‘As an industry, the support we seek is the same that has been seen around the world: from stimulus that increases aggregate demand, furlough that protects jobs and concessionary funding or tax breaks that will ensure business sustainability.’ said Bongai Zamchiya, head of the Restaurant Operators Associations of Zimbabwe.
Acoording to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), ‘tourism contributed 7.2 percent and 6.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2018 and 2019 respectively. With the slowing down of businesses last year, their tourism sector is estimated to have lost about $1billion in potential revenue.’
The Zimbabwean government is hoping to get 60 percent of the country’s 14.8 million people vaccinated.
President of the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe, Clive Chinwada warned that it could take time to see a significant change in foreign tourist arrivals and an increase in hotel occupancy rates.
‘The situation is quite bad and will likely be so for quite some time as recovery is now likely to only start in 2022 for international travel,’ he said.
PICTURE: Victoria Falls Bridge