Tourism council slams rates hike

Business Reporter
THE Zimbabwe Council for Tourism has slammed massive increases of rates by the Victoria Falls Town Council saying it could kill the industry, as tourists are not a source pit of never ending income. ZCT said hospitality operators, who are facing viability challenges, are looking for reductions in input costs and not increases that could destroy their companies.

The remarks were made by ZCT chief executive Mr Francis Ngwenya in the wake of the 650 percent increases in rates by the council earlier this year, which elicited huge outcry. He said tourists are not a source of never-ending income, adding that Zimbabwe is a destination that competes with every other tourist destination in the world for the tourist’s dollar.

“Although the word exorbitant is often overused in relation to costs, it is a word greatly justified when used in relation to these increases,” Mr Ngwenya said last week. The outrageous rates increase saw three hotels, Victoria Falls, Kingdom Hotel and Elephant Hills, being dragged to court after refusing to pay arrears of $380 000.

The matter has since been withdrawn after the disputing parties decided to settle the issue outside the courts. This has also attracted attention of a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Tourism and Hospitality Industry. Mr Ngwenya warned that it must be remembered that the country will not get away with simply increasing rates for travellers and still have them continue to visit the country.

“It is quite clear to me that what is happening is that the local authorities, desperate to extend income generation in every direction, will literally kill the goose that lays the golden egg.” Mr Ngwenya urged local authorities to exercise caution and undertake genuine, meaningful and results-driven application of charges to travel and tourism organisations.

Short-term gains will quickly be overturned by medium to long-term destruction of the sector through overcharging at a time the country is already deemed expensive destination. The country’s competitiveness has weakened further against other regional countries that offer similar products such as Botswana and South Africa due to its stronger currency.

Government considers tourism to be the low hanging fruit identified to drive the economic recovery process in the short term, targeting a $5 billion tourism industry by 2020. Tourism is one of the four major key economic pillars in Zimbabwe, accounting for an average of 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according official statistics.

Mr Ngwenya said Zimbabwe must ensure the free flow of travellers from within and encourage growth of domestic tourism through affordable packages across the country. “We must monitor the movement of regional currencies and its impact on travellers to our destination. Of particular note is the depreciation of the rand and pula against the US dollar. “The local tourism industry must find ways to mitigate the situation through creative pricing and marketing, in our own best interests and to ensure our survival,” Mr Ngwenya said.