As the 9th edition of the Sangnani/Hlanganani Tourism expo fast approaches, the sectorâ€™s premier eventâ€™s timing could not have been more welcome as it comes at a time when the countryâ€™s tourism sector is at the brink of a deep plunge.
The expo should therefore provide a platform for sector players through engagement to introspect and learn from visiting international tourism practitioners and more so for sector leaders who should be soul searching for answers to spur tourism forward.
Hotel room occupancy levels are plummeting across the countryâ€™s major accommodation facilities with the Rainbow Tourism Groupâ€™s Beitbridge facility closure becoming the first major casualty owing to viability and huge profit losses in recent months which analysts warned as a harbinger of hard times ahead.
The sad development comes barely a month after the countryâ€™s second largest city, Bulawayoâ€™s room occupancy rate are understood to have dropped to record levels in recent memory and last week during the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) conference held in Nyanga, HAZ Nyanga chapter Chairman Chalton Chimbira lamented a 40 percent drop in occupancy level in major hotels such as Mont Claire resort and Troutberg among others.
For a sector that has been arguably the most outstanding in the economy in terms of contribution to the fiscus, the sudden downturn of events can have adverse effects on a fragile economy, whose productive sectors of manufacturing, agriculture and mining have been under-performing for some time.
In 2014, the tourism sector contributed 11 percent to GDP.
Analysts have however highlighted that the tourism sector is suffering as a result that it is a subset of a low performing economy. They however argue that the sector still suffers from lack of innovation, particularly in the area of expanding on the archaic traditional packages which has rendered most of the tourism packages redundant.
Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe president Francis Ngwenya said the low occupancy rate has come as a result of low international arrivals who have the consuming power to stir the sector.
He also said the appreciating US dollar has also worsened the situation as the countryâ€™s biggest market, South Africa is going through a phase of currency devaluation which makes the local destination expensive.
â€œI can safely say 80 percent of the market is domestic and I think the current cash crunch and high levels of joblessness in the country has dampened capacity to travel. Zimbabwe is expensive and the weakening Rand is no longer attracting the South African market as they will pay 5 times more,â€
â€œMost of the international visitors end up not taking the eastern highlands, for example, as the state of the roads and lack of air connectivity end up taking touristsâ€™ time at the expense of having quality time,â€ he said.
However poor connectivity to most of the countryâ€™s major tourist spots still remains a challenge in the growth of the sector and this has rendered the local destination uncompetitive.
Zimbabwe ranks in bottom quartile of a recent study on tourism by the World Bank (World Economic Forum: The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2015).
The World Bank study developed a Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI) which covers a record 141 economies to provide a strategic tool for measuring the set of factors and policies that enable the sustainable development of the Travel and Tourism sector, and Zimbabwe is ranked 115 out of 141, despite having arguably unmatched natural endowments like the Vic Falls, wildlife and picturesque scenes in the eastern highlands.
This yearâ€™s edition of the travel fare is hence tasked with the responsibility to converge sector stakeholders who should come up with new innovative ways to navigate the viability challenges at hand.
After realising a tight budget following Government last minute intervention of US$ 500 000, observers have called for the fare to start realising significant outcomes to lure foreign visitors.
There is need for the expo to be restructured in a way that will give first time visitors an opportunity to get first hand experience of the tourism packages by rotating the fare to tourism hotspots rather than confirm the fare to Bulawayo and Harare so as to prop international arrivals.
Statistics show that on average international tourists from high income countries such as Canada, Britain, USA and German among others spend US$1 500 per day compared to US$250 spent by local and regional tourists.
Analysts say the 15 percent tax on accommodation on foreigners was the major reason behind dampened hotel room uptake.
Did You Know
The Income Tax Act (Chapter 23:06) Section 45 (1) allows estimated assessments to be issued by the Commissioner General of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) in respect of taxable income and assessed losses. Estimated assessment can be raised in the following circumstances:
If the client defaults in rendering any return or information;
If the Commissioner General of ZIMRAis not satisfied with the return or information; and if the Commissioner General of ZIMRA has reason to believe that the taxpayer is about to leave the country.
This does not mean estimates may be made lightly or without knowledge of such facts as are available. The taxpayer shall be liable to pay the tax raised on the estimated assessment.
Section 45(2) provides for agreed estimated assessments if it appears to the Commissioner General of ZIMRA that the taxpayers is not able to furnish an accurate return on time. Agreed assessments are not subject to any objection or appeal.
The Commissioner General of ZIMRA is, however, given power to increase the estimate if he subsequently considers that the client withheld vital information at the time the estimate was agreed.
This article was compiled by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority for information purposes only. ZIMRA shall not accept responsibility for loss or damage arising from use of material in this article and no liability will attach to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.