Tinashe Makichi : Business Reporter
Zimbabwe’s average hotel room occupancy rate for the first quarter of 2016 was down at 36 percent from 38 percent recorded during the same period last year. According to the first quarter report released by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority yesterday, Harare had the highest average room occupancy rate of 53 percent followed by Victoria Falls, Midlands, Mutare/Vumba and Nyanga.The 53 percent for Harare was achieved through promotions on room rates offered by major hotel groups otherwise the occupancies could have been lower
“These promotions resulted in increased utilisation of accommodation facilities by domestic tourists in Harare more than in other regions.
“Even with such promotions, Harare experienced a one percent decline in the first Quarter of 2016 compared the same period in 2015,” said ZTA.
“This was attributed to the current harsh economic climate which has resulted in government, private sector and NGO’s implementing austerity measures to reduce operating costs.”
Victoria Falls had the second highest room occupancy rate but experienced a two percentage points decline in the first quarter of 2016. This negative growth was a result of reduced utilisation of accommodation by foreign tourists (the resort town’s occupancy is usually dominated by foreigners).
Compared to other regions Beitbridge recorded four percentage points up from the figure recorded during the same period in 2015.
This was as a result of reduced capacity through the closure of Holiday Inn Express hotel which was the second largest hotel after Beitbridge Rainbow Hotel, contributing 24 percent of hotel rooms in Beitbridge.
This closure resulted in hotel rooms available decreasing, causing the occupancy percentage to increase.
Mutare/Vumba and Masvingo recorded the worst growth of -7 percent each compared to the rest of the regions during the period under review.
This negative growth was attributed to the harsh economic environment prevailing in the country that has adversely affected domestic tourism which is the tourism backbone of these two regions.
On arrivals, South Africa dominated through all of Zimbabwe’s Airports except Victoria Falls, which was dominated by the United States.
US dominated air entry into Victoria Falls and was in the top five at all Airports except Charles Prince while Britain and Ireland made the top five at Harare and Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airports.
“This is further proof of the changing status of UK and Ireland as the leading overseas market for Zimbabwe.”
China was third in arrivals via Harare International Airport (3 405) but recorded low figures via other airports suggesting that Chinese tourists were mainly visiting Zimbabwe on business.
Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg arrivals were second dominant via Harare International Airport.
Zimbabwe received totals of 6 774 and 5 124 United States arrivals in January and February respectively through all ports, adding up to 11898 USA arrivals over the two month period, which amounted to 24 percent of the total USA outbound to Africa, over the 2 months period.
“However, of concern is the fact that most of these American tourists entered Zimbabwe from Zambia while a significant number entered Zimbabwe from Botswana.
“Research has shown that prices of goods and services are generally cheaper in Zambia than in Zimbabwe, which could be one of the pull factors for the Americans,” said ZTA.
The Tourism Authority said the visits to Zimbabwe were mostly just to view the Victoria Falls from the best vantage point, which is on the Zimbabwe side, as well as to partake in high adrenalin activities on the Victoria Falls Bridge.
“Observations have also revealed a pattern where tourists are booking in Livingstone, then cross over to Zim for day trips (although these are not included in the compilation of tourist arrival statistics), only to return to Zambia.”
This means that Zimbabwe is being considered as an add-on destination, which raises concerns of why there seems to be a bigger preference for Zambia which offers a similar tourism product to Zimbabwe.
“Once again this calls for Zimbabwe to review prices all round and put in place a competitive pricing model in order to compete effectively with regional competitors in terms attracting overseas tourist as a main destination and increasing the length of stay and total spend by tourists,” said ZTA.
ZTA said given the iconic status of Victoria Falls, arrival trends into the region are quite worrisome in as far as they show massive movement of tourists entering from neighbouring Botswana and Zambia and passing through Zimbabwe.
It is well known that Zimbabwe presents the best viewing side of Victoria Falls, hence urgent interventions are needed to ensure a more even distribution of tourist arrivals with Zimbabwe’s two neighbours and competitors.
Though there was an increase in tourist arrivals into the country, not all of them end up in hotels, many of them especially those from Mainland Africa resort to very cheap sources of accommodation in lodges as well as friends and relatives.
Observations have also shown that many foreign tourists visiting the Victoria Falls are entering through Kazungula and Victoria Falls border posts for single night stays and day trips, largely showing that they are avoiding staying in Zimbabwe.
This means Zimbabwe is a secondary destination to them. If this phenomenon increases ZTA said it will further affect the performance of the sector as Victoria Falls is the hub of foreign tourism. The Tourism Authority said this requires implementation of robust marketing programmes by Zimbabwe in key source markets.
Unfortunately this is going to be very difficult as the authority gets over 90 percent of its funding from tourism levy collected by operators whose businesses are shrinking.