Zimbabwe vaccinates the entire Victoria Falls, but will tourists return soon?

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 Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa has launched the country’s Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa has launched the country’s Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy
Jekesai Njikizana /AFP
  • Zimbabwe is aiming to vaccinate 60% of its population to reach herd immunity.
  • The country's travel and tourism sector is among the hardest hit sectors globally as countries implemented various levels of lockdowns and travel restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Authorities say the country lost more than US$1.6 billion worth of revenue in 2020 alone. 

Zimbabwe is hopeful of the return of international tourism and travel and has put its best foot forward by vaccinating the entire population of its biggest tourist attraction - Victoria Falls.

Furthermore, efforts are already underway to vaccinate residents of its border towns to at least 60% herd immunity levels.

The travel and tourism sector is among the hardest hit sectors globally as countries implemented various levels of lockdowns and travel restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Zimbabwe was not spared by the restricted movements with international arrivals falling by 95%.

Authorities say the country lost more than US$1.6 billion worth of revenue in 2020 alone. The tourism sector generally brings in between US$1.5 and US$2 billion per annum according to tourism Minister Nqobizitha Ndlovu.

The return of international tourists is obviously not in Zimbabwe's hands, but the southern African country is making sure that threats of contracting Covid-19 will not be used as an excuse not to visit Zimbabwe by potential tourists.

In a symbolic gesture, President Emmerson Mnangagwa received his first jab in the resort town.

As of Wednesday, 19 243 people, from an estimated 25 000 total eligible residents of Victoria Falls, were already receiving their second jab.

Hotel operators, whose stuff have also been fully vaccinated, are also banking on the roll out of the vaccination programmes, not only in Zimbabwe but across the world.

"There are prospects of a rebound in the later part of 2021 on the back of the current rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines and attaining of the required herd immunity," Zimbabwe Stock Exchange listed hotel Group, African Sun, said in a statement accompanying its results for the full year to December 2020.

Just after receiving his first jab, also in Victoria Falls, African Sun CEO, Eddie Shangwa said tourists would feel safe being served by vaccinated hotel staff.

"This (vaccinating the entire town of Victoria Falls) is a great initiative that Government has embarked on...the first in the African continent.

"We hope this [vaccinating close to 95% of hotel staff] is going to be a game changer for the tourism and hospitality industry," Shangwa said.

Bumpy road to recovery

The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, which is mandated to market and promote the country as a safe tourist destination, is however fully aware that vaccinating and making Zimbabwe safe, is no guarantee that tourists will come.

"In as much as a destination can be ready, you will find that the countries of origin, the source markets have their own conditions that can prevent people from traveling," ZTA acting chief executive Givemore Chidzidzi said in an interview recently.

Chidzidzi said tourism will not be quick to recover, even after the vaccination roll-out.

"Its very easy for the sector to fall, but it can be very difficult for it to recover," he said.

As a result, the Zimbabwe authorities have put in place a tourism recovery and growth strategy.

The strategy, which was launched by Mnangagwa, seeks to achieve an ambitious US$5 billion tourism economy by year 2025.

Chidzidzi said the recovery will however be in phases starting with domestic tourism while international tourist could only return in the first half of 2022, according to international predictions.

Full recovery isn’t expected before 2023, according to International Air Transport Association’s latest forecast.

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