ZIMBABWE’S tourism sector is slowly recovering from the effects of Covid-19 pandemic, which razed through the world decimating the whole industry value chain.
In Victoria Falls, the third quarter of 2021 has been a source of hope for the sector with back-to-back bookings as Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) returned to boost the local economy.
Most big hotels were almost fully booked for most of the time since September as they hosted conferences and meetings. Over 90 percent of tourists are locals as domestic tourism takes shape in the absence of international travelers due to travel restrictions.
Over the years the tourism industry relied mostly on international clients with menus, room taste, etiquette and pricing skewed towards foreign clientele.
Thousands lost jobs from the sector, which used to employ more than 100 000 while arrivals dropped, resulting in facilities and tourism spots turning into white elephants and conservation efforts being negatively affected.
The tourism sector contributed close to 10 percent to the fiscus in 2019 as receipts topped around US$1,3 billion, but the drop has been catastrophic. Despite all these negative effects of the pandemic, the industry remained in the game backed by domestic tourism.
Spending by domestic tourists might be low compared to international clients, but there is no doubt this has kept the industry going in the meantime in the absence of international travel.
Government last year launched the Tourism Recovery Growth Strategy, which sought to provide stimulus support to the industry and promote domestic travel.
With the sector slowly showing signs of life after relaxation of lockdown restrictions from Level 4 to Level 2, where locals can travel between cities, there is an area that needs urgent attention. There is need to re-focus the marketing strategy, change menus, redo room taste, review pricing models and expand on activities to include local needs.
Skills flight and lack of international clients means the industry is as good as new and has to change its culture and start focusing mainly on local clients.
Meals at most hotels were largely western dishes, with traditional taste offered on selected days and specially also meant to entice foreigners. Even shop-floor staff etiquette favoured foreign clients.
For almost two years, the industry has been faced with the new normal and players and stakeholders admit there is need to change approach and invest in domestic tourism.