Covid-19 hits Zim tourism

...bookings drop 80pc, players consider retrenchments

By Judith Sibanda 

Tourism players in the country have since resolved to retrench some of their workers following the hard-hitting of the lucrative sector by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen bookings fall by 80 percent.

The disease which broke out in China late last year before spreading all over the world was last week declared a national disaster by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Airlines across the globe have since suspended international fights while some countries have kept their borders shut as part of measures to contain the disease, a development that has crippled global tourism.

Some of the tourism players in Zimbabwe have reportedly sent their employees on forced leave for days to end the accumulation of overtime pending retrenchments, while others have reduced salaries by 50 percent.

Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) Victoria Falls chapter chairperson, Anald Musonza, told CITE  they expected over 90 percent cancellations of bookings and activities lined up for the year hence the decision to retrench.

“Our cancellations lined up for the year are close to 80 percent and we may get even a higher percentage by the end of the week as many airlines have cancelled their flights,” he said.

“We surely don’t know what will happen because if the airlines also stop flying and with the closing of borders all around us we foresee, we will end up with no guests in any of our properties and that’s a big blow.”

Musonza said the sector going through hard times, was looking for ways out of the predicament.

“We have looked at all scenarios that are possible; for now we have said with all this happening, all those with extra leave days have to take some weeks off,” he said.

“We have taken the route of salary cuts.”

He added should bookings remain depressed, they would be left with no options but to lay-off workers, unless the government intervenes.

“We have so many bills to pay such as Council rates, water, electricity as well as bank loans, so we have looked into the idea of approaching the government to keep us afloat and sustain these workers,” he said.

“We are also faced with issues of liquidation of our foreign currency, so we are appealing on possible ways how the government could come on board in terms of bailout arrangements.”

Employers’ Association of Tourism and Safari Operators president, Clement Mukwasi, called for the relaxation of labour laws to allow both parties to survive.

“Companies are in a survival mode, so we all have to either adapt or sink,” he said.

“Most of our source markets are under lockdown and there are huge cancellations of bookings. [Very soon] companies shall be negotiating with employees at shop floor level for half time and suspension of some contracts. There is definitely going to be job losses at all levels of operations.”

He added: “We hope that creditors and debtors shall honour all their contracts. We also hope that the government shall organize a bailout for both our survival now and for recovery when the situation gets back to normal.”

Meanwhile, Musonza said tour operators and hoteliers in the resort town had since mobilised funds to buy hand sanitisers, face masks and gloves for their staff members.

Victoria Falls Combined Residents Association chairperson, Morgan Dube, said the government had not done enough to protect residents.

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