‘Tourism to reopen after $600m deal’. . .we will not fight Covid-19 by closing

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THREE weeks ago, President Emmerson Mnangagwa unveiled the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy, which targets to raise $600 million in rescue packages to prop up firms affected by Covid-19’s national lockdown and grow the industry to a US$5 billion sector by 2025.

In an interview with our correspondent Shame Makoshori, Tourism minister Mangaliso Ndhlovu says while Covid-19 has proved difficult, the government is considering opening up the industry by October. Below are the excerpts.

Q: The government has traditionally promised too much, and delivered too little. I see this in your over ambitious tourism strategy.
A: I share with you the scepticism that I am receiving from many people with regards to the US$5 billion target by 2025…

We have acknowledged that we will not fight Covid-19 by closing.
So, gradually, we will have to reopen. That is where the rescue package will kick in. But there is a lot that has to be done in cleaning up tourism revenue.

We are working on establishing our tourism satellite account, which properly attributes all the revenue that has to do with tourism. Every fee to do with visas and all that, those fees should come into tourism.

When you look at the cleaning up alone, we believe that we will unlock quite significant value. Up to now hunting revenues have not been attributed to tourism.

They have been attributed to agriculture, but that is clearly tourism revenue. We believe that after cleaning up, the tourism revenue is just over US$2 billion (US$1,3 billion in 2018). But we have looked at our potential.

A lot of things have to be done differently. Between 60 and 80 percent of our revenue is wildlife-related. Because of that we need to put more effort in our conservation, more effort in diversifying tourism within the wildlife sector.

We are not doing enough in the filming industry. For a country that has the second largest population of elephants, fourth largest population of rhinos, close to 2 000 lions and one of the few countries with a growing lion population, we need to see more people coming to film this, and there is a huge scope in that.

Q: Tell us about your strategy for several attractions that are not being utilised.
A: We have looked at our water bodies and we want to unlock huge potential in that. We are almost concluding the process of gazetting Tugwi-Mukosi Dam as an integrated national park where the fishing and wildlife industries will be given space to unlock huge tourism potential.

We are also looking at Osborne Dam, Gwayi-Shangani Dam and others. All these are part of strategies that we will be putting in place. I am confident that this is achievable if we put our act together.

Q: How big is the rescue package?
A: We have established the tourism revolving fund. This has been on the cards for a long time. When I discussed this with the president and I explained what we want to achieve with the fund, there was no struggle at all.

He gave us his full support. The importance of the fund is that it allows access to capital for new entrants into the sector. It also allows those players who are there the capacity to modernise and diversify their product offering.

We have a number of potential international partners who are willing to contribute. But they were waiting for the government commitment. The fund was initially $20 million, but the Treasury has agreed to increase it to $100 million.

Q: The Treasury in May unveiled the $18 billion industrial rescue package, but nothing has materialised. Can we trust them?
A: We will continue knocking on their doors to make sure that our contribution is substantial to attract an equal amount from international partners.

That way, our companies can have easy access to finance. We also have a loan guarantee facility of $500 million. This is also trying to create a close link between the financial sector and the tourism industry.

We need to promote this connectivity. The finance sector should play a pivotal role in providing capital which is cost effective. We thought it’s important that the government only insure the default risk side of that.

In our quest to promote domestic tourism, we got feedback that it’s the cost structure that has been a problem. People are struggling to access these destinations. We have waived VAT for one year.

I believe that our recovery will be volume based. We will need more people visiting. The best way of doing this is to reduce our charges, and I am happy that most hotels have begun doing that. Every country that is doing well in tourism has a vibrant domestic tourism industry.

Q: Why has it taken 18 years to establish the satellite account?
A: It’s been so long discussing one issue. I have been told that there is an outstanding payment of US$18 000 and it is not clear who should pay. So, we have given ourselves strict timelines. We believe that by the end of the year it should be completed.

The reforms that we are doing are not only legislative. When you look at unlocking our airstrips, when you look at gazetting our water bodies, these are low hanging fruits so nothing can stop us from reforming.

Q: How much will be the tourism sector’s contribution to the GDP this year?
A: We are expecting that our contribution will be in the region of US$400 million to US$800 million. I expect that the last quarter of this year will be pretty much open. I cannot at this stage indicate the extent of the opening, but it will be open.

We hope that we will be able to salvage some value in the last quarter. We want real empowerment where we have more of our locals also going into investment.

This is why we thought the revolving fund will be important. I want to acknowledge that we have a number of players who are growing together with communities.

We need to strike this delicate balance where we insist on community involvement and without being overbearing on investment, without being over-prescribing to investors.

These are natural resources within communities, but an investor should also see an investment case. But there is also CAMPFIRE, which we established, and today, 800 000 families are benefiting from wildlife within their vicinity.

Q: What role will wildlife play in this strategy?
A: Wildlife remains a lucrative investment within the tourism sector. We are gazetting certain water bodies into integrated national parks as a way of attracting investment.
Our growth trajectory hinges more on wildlife. We view wildlife as an integral part of our tourism growth.

Q: My view is that we now have so many fragmented economic strategies?
A: The government is working on the National Development Strategy, which will succeed the Transitional Stabilisation Programme. It will be a consolidation of many strategies, including from mining and agriculture. The National Development Strategy will be the comprehensive national strategy.

Q: A lot of potentially lucrative destinations remain untapped. Did you take this into consideration?
A: There is a lot that we can do with Binga, for instance. If we package Binga quite well, we will have top notch investment there. We are trying to bring diversified and interesting tourism products into that destination. We are finalising a master plan which links Kariba to Binga, Hwange and Victoria Falls. We have just said let’s consolidate a lot of work that has been done before.

Q: What is the state of national parks in Zimbabwe?
A: We have a vibrant national parks system. We have very good conservation techniques and approaches, although we have significant resource constraints as ZimParks is not receiving direct Treasury support. We have had to be very innovative around courting partnerships into conservation.

Q: You say ZimParks is doing well, but there is, for instance, overfishing in the Zambezi
A: There are prescribed numbers of rigs that should be on the waters at any given point. We have never surpassed our quota as Zimbabwe. We don’t issue permits beyond our agreed quota.

But I can assure you that at any given point on the Zambian side there will be more than double the number on the Zimbabwean side.

You find that our counterparts have two or three times more rigs than our side.

Because of that, there is more breeding on the Zimbabwean side and there have been times where we get to arrest their rigs for encroaching on this side because that is where there is more stock.

These are areas that we continue to engage them as our brothers, Siamese twins as it is often called, just to make sure that we bring sanity to this industry (and) be more scientific in our approach.

Q: How many rigs are sustainable in Lake Kariba?
A: Scientifically, there should be 500 rigs in total, 250 on either side. There was a scientific formula which was used to say which side has the bigger share of the lake, and it came out to be Zimbabwe.

Which means we should ordinarily be having around 270 rigs. But that is idealistic, it will take some discussions and negotiations to get to.

On the Zimbabwean side of the lake, the highest quantity of kapenta that was fished out of Kariba was between 1996 and 1999.

What has happened in this industry is that overtime there has been more involvement of indigenous people.
Where you have more people coming in to participate as compared to previously where it was a preserve of a few large-scale commercial fisheries. However, we also need to acknowledge that we have problems.

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