ZIMBABWE’S tourism is a cash-spinning industry employing thousands and widely considered as one of the low-hanging fruits of this economy. However, it has not been spared by negative publicity in the major foreign source markets and local economic woes including infrastructure challenges that hamper distribution and domestic tourism.
Last week, Business Times senior reporter Taurai Mangudhla (TM) spoke to Africa Albida Tourism chairman Dave Glynn (DG) at the Imara Zimbabwe Investor Conference in Harare around the group’s experience in the market and challenges facing the industry as a whole.
TM: You said work has started on the Binga-Karoi highway, what is the potential impact of this highway on tourism?
DG: There are two national parks on the road that are not accessible. No one goes to them. All the way along Kariba there is potential for tourism, but the biggest issue is that Kariba is not really functioning as a destination because you can’t get in by air. You have to come by road from Victoria Falls, go to Bulawayo, pass through Harare and then Karoi to Kariba. It’s1,500 km.. so what this new highway does is that it cuts that short so it creates potential and a whole lot of tourism products will grow along. It’s a very important highway.
TM: Speaking of Kariba, it appears arrivals and occupancies are lower than before, what are the issues behind such a poor performance in your view?
DG: The whole point of what I am saying is that the country needs access. Access is crucial. If you can’t get people in or out, you have no tourism, you have no business. You can’t get in by air to Kariba the only way you can get in is by road so there is no international tourism going to Kariba that we can speak of.
Its starting off now with some house boats, but they want to go across. They don’t want to stay in Kariba
TM: Air Zimbabwe used to service the Kariba route before suspending it due to viability problems. Perhaps Air Zimbabwe got it wrong, but does it really make business sense for someone to come in with flights into the same destination right now?
DG: Air Zimbabwe wasn’t doing anything wrong other than that. I don’t think they had the right aircraft for the route. You need small aircraft because the Kariba airport is small, the landing strip is very short so it’s more of an equipment issue for them. There are two local airlines which are talking about 19 seaters and that makes economic sense. Once you have got that, with flights coming in daily to Kariba you will see business start to boom, but now you can’t get tourists in and out.
TM: What is the potential for domestic tourism in Zimbabwe as a whole?
DG: There has always been potential for domestic tourism, but economic difficulties or problems are hampering its growth. It used to be the roadblocks, which really curtailed a lot of domestic tourism. But that is gone thankfully. However now we have fuel issues. I think we need to be patient for domestic tourism, it will come once all of these national economic measures have taken effect, and the economy starts to move then I think we will see it coming back.
TM: There is a general observation that the cost of transport is hampering tourism in Zimbabwe especially for the locals, what is your comment on this?
DG: You see that’s market forces. You have only got one airline , as soon as you have got two, prices come down and once you have got three then you will see real market forces and that will spin the tourism economy. At the moment we actually don’t even have the airlines.
TM: Related to transport costs, is the pricing of the product in general where Zimbabwe ends up being more expensive than South Africa and other regional products. What is your comment?
DG: The way we deal with them is that we have discounts so we will publish a price of whatever it is and we will discount it for the local market and South African market so it sounds more economic for them. The noise you hear is when South Africans come then they are sitting on the table and see a South African bottle of wine that they can buy for $7 in the supermarket on our table costing way more. They don’t know that we have to import, pay mark up, pay duty, transport and mark-up to put on the table for them. The noise on price is skewed and not relevant to 80 percent of our market who are quite happy to pay the price.
TM: Speaking more specifically about your group, how many hotels or lodges do you run?
DG: We have got six
TM: And your room capacity?
DG: We have got about 544 beds
TM: How are your facilities performing in terms of occupancy?
DG: It’s been very good. Last year we had a wonderful year, we were about 74 percent in the group. Safari Lodge was nearly 80 percent and that’s really good. It’s softer this year. It’s come down 10 percent in Victoria Falls this year and that’s more to do with South African issues that are affecting us and things like Brexit and trade wars in America and travel warnings. We unfortunately have been impacted by external forces a bit, but generally Victoria Falls as a town is on a surge. Once we get the access right we will be set.
I am not involved in the airline industry, but if you do the investigation; Air Zimbabwe held on to the local routes for a long time, but I believe Government is now opening up. So there are two airlines which we know want to come in. These are two completely new airlines.
We don’t care who operates the aircraft, for the whole tourism industry it’s about access, how do you get someone to Mutare? How do you do it without fuel?
Access is the key to all tourism, if you haven’t got the access then you can’t expand your tourism industry, the access is growing in Victoria Falls and that’s because of the new airport, it’s very significant.