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Undoubtedly, tourism and travel have been some of the affected by the COVID-19 pandemic since most countries began to heavily restrict travel last year around this time. With travel plans cancelled or very uncertain for the coming months, tourism thought leaders have been investing their time into discussing what the future holds for travel companies around the world and how they can come out this situation still functional enough to survive.
While it is obvious that regions that are dependent on tourism were heavily affected, financial reports from last quarter point towards much lower sales even for retail industries that have been kept open as essential services. Nowhere is this trend more apparent like in economic ecosystems like Victoria Falls that are almost totally dependent on Travel and tourism. Lots of companies in Victoria Falls have either massively downsized or shut down operations completely leaving over 90% of the town essentially unemployed and spending much, much less. The implications of this towards our national economy are obvious, which is why as the second wave seems to be behind us and vaccines have begun trickling in, the question is what can companies and governments do to keep this industry alive.
Firstly, however, it is important to note that the outlook for the tourism sector remains highly uncertain. The coronavirus pandemic continues to hit hard – and with international tourism falling by around 80% in 2020, domestic tourism seems to be one way to stay afloat.
Domestic tourism is helping to soften the blow, at least partially, and governments around the world have taken impressive immediate action to restore and re-activate the sector, while protecting jobs and businesses. Many countries are also now developing measures to build a more resilient tourism economy post COVID-19. These include preparing plans to support the sustainable recovery of tourism, promoting the digital transition and move to a greener tourism system, and rethinking tourism for the future. But the question stands – is Victoria Falls properly positioned to accept this new trend.
A local Hotelier and president of the Tourism Association doesn’t seem to be confident about Victoria falls’ preparedness to accept the “new normal” “Within this recovery period, the only market that going to make our industry survive is the local market. So we need to tailor our product to be attractive to the local market. Which then means we have to go back to our core structures and sharpen our pencils to make sure we are more price sensitive to this market” said the the local hotelier. He then went on to explain for this to be achieved there has to be a lot of policy.
This also goes into government policy like the VAT element… that across all our products VAT should be taken away because that constitutes. We need a moratorium – that throughout this whole year, take out all licenses and fees to businesses to come back,” he added.
So far, we have identified that 1. We have to attract local tourism 2. Governments need to reduce taxes and fees to allow for companies to price their product better, but is there more our governments can do to help our struggling industry.
In Europe and the Americas, they have cash injections and recovery funds given to companies and individuals that have been incapacitated by the pandemic, tourism being one of the recipients of these funds. The same model has been suggested for countries and regions that are dependent on tourism like Victoria Falls.
In this model, companies are either given direct funds as a dividend of rescue funds or given access to loans with very low interest rates to help them survive. It can’t be over stated how lots of companies here in Victoria Falls are in need of something like this. These funds could go a long way in keeping these companies afloat and keeping the majority of the region employed.
However, this comes with somewhat obvious downsides, especially for a bankrupt country like Zimbabwe which doesn’t have the money for this. Moreover, Another tourism player articulates that there is the very obvious danger having governments involved into these companies and nationalizing tourism is all too real.
“A bankrupt government might put money into a [company] and the next thing that government will say they want shares in that [company] and before we know it that company is now a parastatal and later that company is bust” he said.
While there are understandable reservations here to direct governmental involvement in business we cannot understate the impotence of having a more involved government in the transition period. Be it through direct cash injections or the subtler nudge of removing or reducing taxes. Companies and extra governmental organisations can do all they can but governments, especially our Zimbabwean government needs to look into the issue or licenses, fees and taxes if the industry is going to be more attractive to its apparent saviour – Domestic Tourism.