By Anyway Yotamu
The government has announced the reopening of the tourism sector across the country after five months of closure following the health and safety guidelines conducted. The decision was approved by Cabinet.
Addressing journalists on Thursday 3 September 2020 in Harare, Minister of Environment Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Mangaliso Ndlovu said, “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 shutdown 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,” said Minister Ndlovu.
“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,” said Minister Ndlovu.
Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu also stressed that his ministry and stakeholders were monitoring the situation and safety measures to reopen the sector.
“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,” said Minister Ndlovu.
Minister Ndlovu also reiterated that his ministry in recent months led nationwide consultations with all tourism players and stakeholders 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 and 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, ” said Minister Ndlovu.
Minister Ndlovu also added that the 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,” said Minister Ndlovu.
As announced by Government, the opening of airports to both domestic and international travel is a decision that 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.
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 authorities to meticulously examine and re-examine the airports and the whole tourism value chain to ensure that there is a robust COVID-19 support system to support this re-opening.
Minister Ndlovu said the Tourism Ministry continues to work closely with the Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development, to ensure that the country is ready to achieve its targets.
“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 checkpoints, contact tracing, recording on the arrival of guests, physical distancing markings at their premises, deep cleaning and disinfection of the facility among many others. On its part, the Government will intensify compliance checks together with the relevant arms of Government to ensure players are fully compliant,” added Minister Ndlovu.
He also went on to thank all tourism stakeholders who stood firm during the closure of business for the past five months, “l 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,” said Minister Ndlovu.