By Margaret Kamba
The demand by the 65 returning residents from the United Kingdom to be booked in hotels has been met with a lot of criticism from the locals for various reasons. For many locals, it does not make sense for potential COVID19 travelers to make demands with no regard for innocent lives who have not traveled abroad to expose themselves to the deadly virus.
Many people are currently questioning if there was really a need for the residents to return home in the first place. Many stories are circulating of how some of these returning residents have used their proximity to bypass quarantine procedures but fortunately this has been met with the full wrath of the law. COVID19 is not only a health threat but also has socio-economic and political impacts seemingly reversing gains achieved over the years.
The tourism industry has been one key economic earner for Zimbabwe for many years and with this pandemic the country is faced with the restriction of travel by the countries across the world is impacting negatively on communities that have depended on tourist income.
For that reason, the need to build and strengthen the resilience of these communities is paramount to the growth of the industry and its survival after the pandemic. It is necessary to support communities depending on wildlife based tourism. Alternative livelihood opportunities, expanding revenue streams for wildlife support industries, enhancing connectivity and promoting virtual wildlife tourism experiences for sustained local income are some of the ways to ensure tourism businesses stay afloat during a crisis.
Had these things been in place years ago when the country embarked on the necessary irreversible Land Reform Programme, perhaps the downturn in tourist arrivals would not have been experienced.
That era saw negative publicity peddled about Zimbabwe necessitating a rebranding of the country’s brand from being Africa’s Paradise to Zimbabwe- A World of Wonders. This new brand name has seen an upsurge of visitors to Zimbabwe as the various tourists come to appreciate the various tourism resorts the country has as well as the friendly people.
Despite this rebranding exercise taking shape, several attempts by the MDC goons have seen them portraying a picture that the country is ungovernable through their constant and ill-timed demonstrations during which the Non-Governmental Organisation world quickly rushes to call infringement on human rights.
So now with this batch of returning residents that has added to the negative narrative that Zimbabwe is this dark cloud and has cared less about using official government channels to invest into the country, comes into the country and expects a kid-glove treatment, it makes it difficult for anyone to begin to understand the predicament they are in.
In a statement on COVID19 the President of Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe SOAZ Cde Emmanuel Fundira highlighted that the association is seized with the devastating effect of Covid-19 across the entire breath of the Safari industry.
“SOAZ and its members embrace the consumptive and non-consumptive regulated, ethical, and sustainable use of wildlife resources for socio economic development. This pandemic, unfortunately, comes at a time when Zimbabwe is in the throes of a debilitating drought and barely recovering from the effects of cyclone Idai (in 2019 ) and worse still we continue to face a rabid and more emboldened anti-hunting lobby, retrogressive legislation out from major source markets in particular the USA and UK,” Fundira said.
“The pandemic, COVID-19 adds more pain to a very bad situation and is punctuated by widespread cancellation recorded daily nationwide. The known cancellations to date are close to 90 percent (the equivalent of 8000 hunting days) of the hunts booked for 2020. This is revenue running in millions US Dollars already lost.
“The remaining 10 percent of 2020 bookings comprising of year end reservations remain in doubt as current and post Covid-19 effects are difficult to conclusively evaluate at the time of delivering my statement.”
Fundira said clients are being persuaded to postpone their bookings seeing as the COVID19 threat is unforeseen.
“The foregoing does not bode well with our conservation efforts, in particular anti-poaching programs which are now grossly under resourced and require urgent funding. Be that as it may, and in order to mitigate against this dire situation, we continue to advise members to persuade international clients to postpone bookings to a future date including 2021,” Fundisa said.
“Clearly, SOAZ has not been folding arms but instead has pushed a number of initiatives and representation to Government and will continue doing so. SOAZ in collaboration with ZTA (Zimbabwe Tourism Authority) and ZPWMA (Zimbabwe Parks Wildlife and Management Authority) has already approached Government through the Inter Ministerial Task Force for the Industry to be considered for forex liquidation exemption, tax relief, including moratorium on other statutory fees, extension of leases and deferment of levies in order to pre-empt business closures.
“Finally, SOAZ values the timely messages of support from our international partners at SCI (Safari Club International) and DSC (Dallas Safari Club) IUCN, WWF, CIC, OPHAA and other regional and international partners. We find comfort that we are not alone and a deluge of messages of support is testimony that the whole universe is alive to our predicament.