COVID-19: Zimbabwe could lose US$1.1bn tourism revenue in 2020 – its entire annual earnings

The new Kariba Safari Lodge: Operators had stepped up facilities, but COVID-19 has left them empty

Just two years ago, Zimbabwe’s tourism players were enjoying a boom, with arrivals hitting record highs and companies, for the first time in years, investing in new infrastructure in anticipation of further growth.

But now the country could lose as much as US$1.1 billion in tourism earnings, essentially its entire annual receipts, due to global travel restrictions caused by COVID-19, Tourism Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu says. 

A government forecast says the most optimistic projection has tourist arrivals falling 30%. This assumes an unlikely recovery in the second half of the year if travel restrictions end quickly. However, a more likely projection is that travel restrictions will remain for the rest of the year. 

“The last is obviously the worst-case scenario, which assumes an 85% decline in arrivals to close the year at 350 000 tourist arrivals,” Ndlovu told a meeting of tourism players Thursday. 

“This is predicated on the assumption that the current status of restrictions on International travel persists until year end especially in our major source markets of Europe and the US.

“Overally, we also anticipate a consequent fall in tourism business, with the country set to lose between US$500 million to US$1,1 billion in potential tourism revenue in 2020 from the projected revenue of US$1,4 billion,” Ndlovu said.

After an unexpected boom in 2018, when arrivals hit record highs, Zimbabwean tourism was already facing decline. In 2019, Zimbabwe earned close to US$1 billion in receipts from 2.26 million arrivals, down 11% from 2018. 

The World Travel and Tourism Council says it could take at least ten months for the global industry to recover.

As part of an Z$18 billion rescue plan announced last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa granted a Z$500 million tourism bailout. Operators say this will not be enough to save their businesses from collapse. 

Major hotel operators, among them Africa Sun, have shut down their hotels in response to the lockdown and travel restrictions. 

Ndlovu, on Thursday, announced additional measures, which include a waiver on Value Added Tax paid by locals at tourism facilities. Government will also defer the liquidation of forex paid by international travelers, Ndlovu said. 

Global crisis

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) projects the world tourism industry to fall by up to 80% year-on-year in 2020. This would be the worst decline in history, putting up to 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk. In March alone, tourism arrivals around the world fell 57%, and 22% for the first quarter.

The global tourism industry could lose up to US$1.2 trillion in revenues from tourism this year, UNWTO projected.