It will take time for international tourists to start trooping back in the numbers the country was used to. This suggests the need to explore alternatives.
Emerging consensus is that domestic tourism will provide the initial launch pad to recover the tourism industry.
The Government, through the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry, is encouraging support for domestic tourism growth through incentives to visitors to promote travelling and incentives to embrace domestic tourism segment as an important market for the sector to grow and cushion during periods of global recessions.
Basing on the Government’s support, it is therefore important for players in the industry to offer packages that attract domestic tourists including particularly a relook at pricing for the domestic market.
The Government on its part has already suspended for a period of one year, the 15 percent VAT chargeable for domestic tourists believing this will go a long way in incentivising this market. The private sector thus needs to complement this thrust by the Government.
Inter-city buses such as the ones plying the Harare-Bulawayo-Victoria Falls route, could play a significant role in promoting revival of domestic tourism in terms of bringing down the cost of travel, while also providing an opportunity for sight-seeing.
It will be recalled how popular the services of Blue Arrow transport were and how a model of this kind could form part of the package the Government is envisaging for civil servants/domestic tourists.
There is need for players in the sector to put their heads together and establish how domestic tourism can help in the revival of the industry. Such introspection would require a realistic pricing matrix.
The general sense is that the way the products are priced excludes local tourists and this appears to be supported by the low uptake by domestic tourists.
The current global pandemic has helped expose how vulnerable it can be to put one’s eggs in one basket — in this particular case, being heavily reliant on foreign tourists.
The Ministry of Tourism is alive to the need to promote drive-through tourists, including those that travel using luxury inter-city transport, where the tourists want to relax and savour the terrain and enjoy sightseeing on their way to resort areas.
The outcome of this extensive lobby to Treasury is suspension of duty on buses for tour operators. This incentive which is already in operation with more than 20 buses having been brought in duty-free to enhance the capacity of tour operators. Inter-city travel is an important element of the tourism industry which guarantees that tourists are transported safely and comfortably. This can only improve connectivity between cities and tourism destinations in the country.
Consequently, a number of players have also been licensed, with several other licensed operators already offering tours countrywide.
But this also offers another entry point for investment for the domestic investors wishing to participate in the tourism value chain, which the Ministry of Tourism is encouraging heavily.
In addition to ground travel/transport, the District Development Fund (DDF) operates Flacon Air, which offers charter flights and tours to both domestic and regional flights.
Falcon Air has been instrumental in improving access to some of the least accessible areas such as Mana Pools and Binga among others as they operate smaller aircraft suitable for such routes.
Apart from Falcon Air, the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy identifies key roles for the DDF in construction of infrastructure linking tourism destinations especially airstrips such as those in Binga, Hwange, Nyanga, Kanyemba, Tugwi-Mukosi and other idle airstrips.
The DDF in close liaison with the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development also plays a key role in improving access to tourism resorts through repairs to National Park roads.
For several years now the approach to promoting Zimbabwe as a tourist destination, has revolved around bringing travel writers. While the jury is still out on the key deliverables of these trips, maybe getting the tourists providing feedback interviews would be one tact.
Getting these feedback interviews onto the numerous platforms available these days would be considerably less expensive way of marketing or branding a destination.
What, however, this approach requires is closer co-operation between media houses and industry players — National Parks, Safari operators, game lodges, hotels and others. The Ministry of Tourism and the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority can coordinate this approach, determining its regularity.
Stories bases on exit feedback interviews would be offered or shared with media organisations in the countries contributing the tourists. But is the industry up to the challenge?
This suggestion is made because of the strong belief that tourists who would have sampled local products would be among the country’s best sellers/ambassadors/marketers of Zimbabwe as a must-visit tourist destination.