As Zimbabwe’s tourism arrivals figures tumble ahead of the festive season amid severe cash shortages, pressure is piling on President Robert Mugabe’s administration to seriously and urgently consider adopting the South African Rand as the official trading currency to save the sector.
The country’s beleaguered tourism sector, which is experiencing low tourism arrivals particularly from neighbouring South Africa, is the latest to add its voice for the government to adopt the Rand after similar pleas from the equally tottering manufacturing sector.
Stakeholders in the tourism sector told Radio VOP business is at all-time low at the World heritage site Victoria Falls, the country’s premier tourism attraction, as a result of a marked decline in patronage from South Africa blamed on the use of a bullish US dollar.
South African tourists previously dominated the Victoria Falls but latest figures indicated a decline of about 2 percent in tourism arrivals compared to the same period last year.
Zimbabwe Council of Tourism president Richard Ngwenya predicates massive job cuts and a halt in the implementation of major capital projects such as construction of new hotels and renovations particularly in Victoria Falls which is a cash-cow for the sector.
“South African tourists are finding it expensive to visit the Victoria Falls due to the use of the US dollar. The dollar is expensive for them. We ask the government to use the Rand as official currency to overcome some of the problems we are facing in the tourism sector,” said Ngwenya.
The government adopted a multiple currency regime in 2009 which now includes the US dollar, the Rand, Chinese Yuan, Canadian dollar, Australian dollar and the Botswana Pula but the greenback has remained the dominant currency which is preferred by all traders.
The US dollar has however in recent months been elusive and in short supply in the local market.
The government, which has flatly refused to adopt the Rand, is instead pushing ahead with the introduction of bond notes critics claim are a surrogate currency designed by Mugabe to bring back the Zimbabwe dollar through the backdoor.
Apart from the expensive US dollar for tourists coupled with a prevailing cash crisis attributed to the marked decline in arrivals, the sector is reeling from duplicate taxation, lack of affordable lines of credit, an unreliable national airline and chaos at the Beitbridge border post.
The sector has proposed a raft of measures to make the tourism and hospitality industry profitable such as reduction of Value Added Tax, one-shop licensing of hotels, the establishment of a National Convention Bureau and the much-needed financial capacitation of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA).
It costs up to $28 000 a year to get all the licences for televisions, liquor and other permits needed in the sector.
Currently, the ZTA has a budget of $490 000 to cover its mandate to market Zimbabwe which Ngwenya said was insignificant compared to similar organisations in the region. The Botswana Tourism Authority has an annual budget of $33 million while South Africa’s equivalent has an annual budget of $150 million.
“We need to see Victoria Falls as a tourism hub but what can ZTA achieve with half a million dollars? We need to see that figure moving up to levels of Botswana and South Africa