Zimbabwe: Zim Tourism, SMEs Reel Under Coronavirus

25 February 2020

The outbreak of COVID-19, which is caused by Coronavirus, has negatively impacted on the tourism industry and small to medium enterprises since movements have been significantly restricted.

Entrepreneurs cannot travel to China to import various goods such as clothes, cell phones and vehicle spare parts for resale due to fear of contracting the virus.

Similarly, Chinese tourists have significantly cut down on foreign travels for fear of further spreading the virus which has killed over 2 700 people across the world, but mainly in mainland China. Over 79 000 cases had been reported.

About 12 deaths have been reported in Iran while five people have been killed in Italy.

The situation for local traders and tourists has been compounded by aviation giant, Emirates' decision to suspend flights to Guangzhou and Shanghai from February 5 until further notice.

"Customers booked to fly to and from Guangzhou or Shanghai from January 28, 2020 to April 30 (both dates inclusive) can contact their travel agent or Emirates office to refund their unused ticket, or choose to reroute their journey to and from Beijing or Hong Kong. Any applicable change fee or fare difference will be waived.

"Outside of this travel period, normal refund and flight change charges will apply," reads the statement.

Guangzhou and Shanghai are two of the most popular destinations for local traders who also rely on the Emirates flights.

The International Air Transport Association, the trade body for the global airline industry, gave a gloomy picture and warned last week that falling passenger demand would cost the airline industry about US$29,3 billion in lost revenues.

Global air travel is expected to fall for the first time in over a decade.

The country's tourism sector is experiencing mixed fortunes, with areas such as Victoria Falls presently off-season in terms of tourist arrivals, which tend to peak in July.

In an interview yesterday, Joe Travel and Tours general manager Mr Leo Manyembere said their business had taken a knock because of the outbreak of the Coronavirus.

"We have been affected by this outbreak. We rely much on the Chinese and Asian market at large. We are not getting any bookings of late and as long as this virus is still taking its toll on people from our busiest Asian market, we don't expect much in terms of business.

"As a remedy, we are now targeting the regional and local market, but the figures we are getting are not that significant. We invested a lot in the Eastern market and we are not getting the desired benefits because of this virus," he said.

However, Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe president Mr Clive Chinwada said while they have had some cancellations, the situation was not gloomy.

"We have not felt much impact in terms of cancellation of tourist arrivals because of the Coronavirus. There were a few cancellations of tourist bookings in Victoria Falls and we are not much worried as this is an off-peak season for the country's prime resort area.

"Victoria Falls' peak season is in July and we hope by then the Coronavirus situation would have improved," said Mr Chinwada.

A cellphone trader, Mrs Gladys Wachi, said they wanted to travel to China but were forced to cancel the trip.

"Our stocks are now low but we cannot travel to China because of the Coronavirus. This has affected our business and we hope something will be done because we will exhaust all our stocks. We are just coming from the festive season where we recorded better sales and we were expecting to get new products on the market to boost our sales," she said.

Ms Tatenda Mano, who sells hair extensions, said demand was high, but supplies were now low.

"We are now in a fix because our supplies are getting low with each passing day. We have an option of sourcing from the region, but the profit margins will be low compared to when we acquire the supplies from China. The cancellation of flights especially to Guangzhou also affected us. We cannot reroute to other areas because we had established good rapport with our suppliers there," she said.

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