Zimbabwe Tourism Reopens: Statement by Minister of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Hon N.M Ndhlovu
We meet at a time when the whole world is trying to crawl back to life from the negative impacts of the Covid-19-induced economic shut down and subsequent travel restrictions, which have disrupted travel global chains. As you will all know, the impact of the pandemic on the Tourism Sector has been severe in our country, with many tourism companies on the brink of collapse. The resilience of the sector has been tested to the limit over the last six months. It therefore comes as a very welcome decision that Cabinet has allowed all Tourism Activities that had remained shut down as part of the measures to contain the Coronavirus Pandemic to now resume full operations.
During the time when the sector was closed, my Ministry together with all stakeholders collaborated to develop Health and Safety Guidelines, which were approved by Cabinet, detailing protocols which need to be followed to allow the whole sector to re-open safely. This was in keeping with the overall global policy thrust to strengthen the capacity of the sector to emerge stronger to operate under the new normal. You will also recall that during this period, the Ministry led widespread consultations under strict social distancing conditions, which led to the development of the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy.
This blueprint was approved by Cabinet and was subsequently launched by His Excellency, the President, Cde E.D Mnangagwa, in August 2020, in Victoria Falls. I must mention that at the time of the launch, most tourism operators in Harare, failed to attend this function. I must apologise that this decision was not intentional, but was arrived at in full consultation with your association leadership and in line with the restrictions on intercity travel, which existed at that time.
I am nevertheless convinced that, the launch of the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy, leaves us with clarity as to what Government intends to do to deliver the sector from the current downturn. This however can only be achieved with active support of the private sector. Without doubt, one of the key questions which remained unanswered after this launch related to those Tourism activities deemed recreational and leisure which had remained closed. I am therefore pleased to announce that following Cabinet approval, all Tourism activities can now resume operations. These include but are not limited to: game drives, bungee jumping, zip liners, helicopter rides, lion walks, elephant rides and all registered tourism activities. For the avoidance of doubt, this also includes the resumption of boat operations on our lakes both for tourism and fishing (and other tourism related activities), in strict compliance with Covid-19 Pandemic Guidelines which have been developed. I mention this particularly because in areas such as Kariba, the Boating Industry is a key anchor of their tourism industry for both leisure and fishing.
This decision by Cabinet is indeed welcome as it comes at a time when massive retrenchments were looming in the sector and such layoffs would have threatened the many lives that are dependent on tourism for survival. As Government we acknowledge that it has not been an easy journey for our sector and I am aware that most players had to send employees on forced leave. Most employees were on half salaries, and in the worst case scenarios, on unpaid leave. The negative impact of the Coronavirus induced shutdown was felt across the whole tourism sector and its value chains. However, the impact was more severe in towns such as Kariba and Victoria Falls, which are predominantly tourism reliant cities. We hope that with this decision to reopen, the sector will breathe life into the sector and allow us to pick up the pieces again.
I would also want the Tourism Players to note that as announced by Government, the opening of airports to both domestic and international travel is a decision which is under the active consideration of the government. The same will be communicated as and when the decision is made at the appropriate time by the competent authority. You will all appreciate that this decision has to be done in a phased, responsible and safe manner, which does not put in danger the well-being of both staff and travellers. The decision compels us to meticulously examine and re-examine our airports and the whole tourism value chain to ensure that there is a robust Covid-19 support system to support this re-opening. I wish to assure you that my Ministry continues to work closely with the Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development, to ensure that as a country we are ready to achieve this.
I also wish to appeal to all of us to contribute meaningfully by way of ideas and in whatever way you may, to strengthen our Health and Safety Protocols and systems in readiness for this decision. We need to appreciate that this is a delicate balancing act between saving the economy and strengthening our response systems. For now all tourism players must go to their drawing boards and begin the process of re-opening our facilities, ensure all our staff are tested prior to commencement and that the guidelines which were developed are religiously followed. Industry must therefore invest in and ensure safe operations through protocols such as temperature check points, contact tracing, recording on arrival of guests, physical distancing markings at their premises, deep cleaning and disinfection of the facility among many others. On its part, Government will intensify compliance checks together with the relevant arms of Government to ensure players are fully compliant.
I wish to once again, thank the Tourism Industry for its resilience during this difficult time and assure you that we will surely bounce back as an industry and achieve our set goals for a US$5billion Tourism Economy by the year 2025. Let us therefore continue to engage in dialogue so that brick by brick, we all join hands to re-build our industry and ensure we make it contribute more to the economic growth and prosperity of our beautiful Zimbabwe.