Tourism is one of the sectors that was adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Soon after the first case of Covid-19 was discovered in 2019, movement of people was immediately halted as governments frantically tried to stop the virus from spreading further.
Two years later, the globe is still trying to battle with the consequences of the virus on both the human and the economic front.
However, most countries are slowly opening their borders hinging on the prospects of a decline in new infections owing to ongoing vaccination programmes.
That development has also given a new lease of life to the tourism industry that heavily relies on human movement for its survival.
Several countries around the globe have started working on tourism packages tailor-made to suit the aspirations of discerning tourists, still smarting from the effects of Covid-19.
Zimbabwe is following the same trajectory and has made inroads in putting its tourism sector back on track by carrying out a massive vaccination campaign across the country.
As a result, areas like Victoria Falls have made huge strides in vaccination and is being opened to cater for “vaccinated tourists”.
The nation, therefore, welcomes the decision by the Government to open the Victoria Falls and Kazungula border posts to fully vaccinated tourists in a move aimed at reviving the tourism sector, which has been the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic since last year.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the number of international arrivals across the globe declined by 84 percent between March and December 2020, compared with the previous year.
Based on a range of tourist arrivals projections, the UNWTO quantifies the potential economic effects of the contraction in the next two years because of the linkages that tourism has with some other sections of the economy.
Due to its linkages with other sectors such as agriculture, and even transport, a drop in tourist sales has a double fold loss in real Gross Domestic Product, never mind the loss of jobs for thousands employed in these sectors.
It is, therefore, heartening to witness positive movements in the tourism sector following a hiatus.
What this effectively means is that the country should begin to see an increase in the number of international tourist arrivals to augment domestic activities that have been keeping the industry floating.
The Cabinet pronouncement means that Zimbabwe will join several other countries in Africa and beyond that have taken the route of only allowing vaccinated tourists, to stop the further spread of Covid-19.
Morocco and Egypt have since taken that route, while the United Arab Emirates has also launched vaccine tourism, offering free jabs to everyone with an entry visa.
Still smarting from the devastating effects of Covid-19 globally, the tourism sector will need to exercise due diligence to ensure that countries do not witness a surge in new infections — and of various variants — soon after opening.
By its nature, the tourism industry is the interface between the country and the globe.
As such, any interactions between countries have to be well managed by stakeholders to bolster confidence while taking the necessary efforts to flatten the curve.
It would be ambitious on the part of the tourism stakeholders to expect a deluge of vaccinated tourists soon after the opening of the two border posts.
Tourism players would need to work hard to have a positive narrative on the safety of the tourism packages being offered throughout the country.
The narrative should also be complemented by services to match tourists’ expectations in the middle of a pandemic.
There is, therefore, need for proper safety requirements at all tourism facilities to complement existing World Health Organisation requirements, as well as measures put in place by the Government.
With the horrific consequences of the pandemic still fresh in the people’s minds, tourists will place greater focus on their health and will naturally avoid crowded places.
Unlike previously where tourism players would revel at high turn outs, and at times put up makeshift arrangements to accommodate extra guests, they now need to adopt new standards that ensure safety of the minimum number of guests they would be allowed to host at any given time.
This calls for training staff, availing information on Covid-19 and regular campaigns to instil confidence and rebuild trust among tourists who desire to travel, but are worried about their safety.
Stakeholders in the tourism industry have a huge responsibility to restore confidence and stimulate demand through use of apps to attract local and international visitors.
Since borders of most countries are still closed to prevent further spread of the disease, domestic tourism remains the low hanging fruit that stakeholders can pick to jump-start their business, while fully incentivising the few international tourists who are already eager to jump on the next plane and travel.
Vaccines are also critical part of the solution in boosting the tourism sector in the country, hence the need to accelerate the campaign for more people to be vaccinated.
Zimbabwe is currently running a robust vaccination programme in the region that has since been hailed by a number of organisations and countries such as Australia and also political leaders from diverse backgrounds.
South African opposition leader and rabid critic of the Second Republic, Mr Julius Malema, who is leader of an outfit calling itself the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), last month urged his compatriots to visit Zimbabwe to get vaccinated in what has become the latest endorsement of the way Zimbabwean authorities have managed the Covid-19 pandemic.
Zimbabwe can ride on the success of its trailblazing vaccination programme and embark on vaccine tourism, where those keen on getting a vaccine can visit the country and get a jab in the process.
Already, several people from neighbouring countries having been coming into the country to get vaccinated, after realising that it would take longer than necessary before they get vaccinated in their own countries.
That alone is a plus that Zimbabwe can ride on to venture into vaccine tourism, after having shown that it has the capacity to push a programme of such magnitude, within a short period of time.
Boasting over a million people that have been vaccinated to date, with more vaccines arriving weekly, Zimbabwe is on the cusp of glory in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Like any other country, Zimbabwe has not been immune to health-related challenges that Covid-19 has brought on the door-step of almost every country in the world.
What is critical to note is that the nation has adapted well to the pandemic disruptions and continue to insulate its people against the ravaging effects of Covid-19, while maintaining its focus on economic growth.