Not the best of times for Zimbabwe’s tourism industry. Tourist arrivals were down by 20% in 2015 in comparison to the previous year, according to the Employers’ Association of Tourism and Safari Operators, the reason was, quite predictably, the largely reported Ebola outbreak, which put the whole world in danger, but had its center in West Africa.
The industry isn’t backing down, though, and several actions have been put in place in order not only to improve on last year’s disappointing results, which saw companies suspending the payment of bonuses, but also beat 2009, a record-year for Zimbabwe.
Tourism stakeholders expect a 10% rise in demand, but insiders estimate that big marketing campaigns will be needed for companies to accomplish their goals.
2004’s Ebola outbreak cost Zimbabwe a whopping $6 million, as cancellations rained down and buyers withdrew from the important tourism expo, but the Zimbabwe tourism authority believes the industry is making its recovery.
Meanwhile, neighboring Zambia has been visited by an estimated 1 million tourists last year, registering a 3.24% growth on average over the last five years. According to Zimbabwe tourism insiders, a similar growth could be within reach if the Victoria Falls International Airport was to be completed.
The completion of the airport could make a really significant difference for the country, as it would triple the handling capacity of the Victoria Falls airport, allowing more airlines to be licensed in Zimbabwe and increasing the number of passenger to 1.2 million, where it now lays around 400,000.
Unfortunately, the introduction of VAT on foreign tourists’ expenses has not helped the industry’s case, and neither has the devaluation of African currencies like the South African rand, both of which have taken a further toll on tourism, especially seeing as South African tourists were responsible for a slight boost to the industry in 2015.
It isn’t just the overzealous actions of local governments or the scare of infectious diseases that is casting a shadow over Zimbabwe tourism though. Two lion sub-species, which are mainly found in the region, have been considered endangered, and a ban on hunting products is pending the US government’s approval.
The Zimbabwe Tourism Council has reacted to this impending ban by expressing its disappointment with this action which might have substantial impact on the hunting industry and thus on the already crippled tourism industry of the country.
USA is the biggest market for Zimbabwe’s hunting packages, which are likely to be affected, but the ban also causes fear that other countries will follow such example. The argument behind these fears is that hunters will be discouraged by the fact that they can’t import their hunted goods, and they will stop hunting altogether.
The ban comes after a tourist shot ‘Cecil, the Lion’, a popular Zimbabwe attraction, and is only the latest in a growing list of bans on local hunting products.
Hunting will be one of the main topics of the 2016 Tourism Convention, to be hosted in Victoria Falls from February 10 to 12, an event aimed at encouraging the various sectors, including the people and government, to get involved in the tourism industry.
Next year may be a difficult one for the economy, with fears of Ebola, crime and terrorism keeping tourists away.
According to a survey by the GeoBranding Centre, in partnership with AIG Travel, travellers regard southern Africa to be as risky as Mexico and Central America.
Titled the Global Anxiety Audit, the report found “one in four global travellers ditched travel plans over safety concerns in 2015; Africa suffers most, with 53 percent of leisure tourists unwilling to go due to worries about personal safety and 46 percent fearful of diseases like Ebola”.
This is despite the fact Ebola has been eradicated and the outbreak affected only a handful of countries on the continent. Security is not much of a concern for American tourists. They, however, need compelling reasons to travel.
“A study of 2 000 travellers reveals US tourists are less concerned with crime and security in Africa versus those from Germany and the UK, but Americans are more in need of a ‘real reason to go’.”
All is not lost, though, as some travellers showed a desire to visit the southern tip of the continent.
The report states: “A notable 20 percent would like to visit southern Africa; word-of-mouth endorsements remain very positive about Africa overall; and worries about costs and flights are dwindling, making safety reassurance, compelling offers and unique experiences key to attracting visitors.”
Nigel Vere Nicoll, CEO of the African Travel and Tourism Association, said: “Africa has the best tourism product in the world, and for more reasons than people may think.
“We know of nowhere else in the world where you can get a good meal with wine for such a low cost as you can in South Africa; it is untouchable.”
HILTON Hotels is planning to pour more money into South Africa as competition hots up for the continent’s tourism riches.
For a start, the US group plans to convert the independent hotels it controls in South Africa into Garden Inn hotels, according to Patrick Fitzgibbon, vice-president of development for Europe and Africa.
The plan follows signs that a tourism boom is taking shape in South Africa, helped by the rand’s fall against the dollar.
Grant Thornton’s latest Tourism Business Index showed an increase in tourist spending in the fourth quarter of last year – despite the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which prompted some tourists to cancel their trips to the continent.
Fitzgibbon was in South Africa to meet a team developing a new Garden Inn in the Namibian capital Windhoek.
Hilton’s announcement comes three months after Hard Rock International, which owns the Hard Rock Cafe, said it planned to build a hotel in South Africa. Group president and CEO Hamish Dodds said South Africa was a “really logical” place to launch its hotel.
Fitzgibbon said he was not surprised by his rival’s plans, given that Africa had “massive opportunities” in tourism.
The landmark Westcliff Hotel in Johannesburg, which has hosted celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, Will Smith, Richard Branson and the Dalai Lama, was bought by the Four Seasons group and its 117 rooms overhauled.
The new-look Westcliff opened for business late last year, but reviews after the R200-million makeover have been mixed, specifically of the one restaurant currently open. A further four restaurants will be opened this quarter.
Perhaps scarred by this poor reception, hotel management did not respond to interview requests this week.
Other hotel groups that want to increase their foothold on the continent include Marriott International, which bought the Protea Hospitality Group for R2-billion last year.
But South African hotel groups are not taking the challenge lying down.
Tsogo Sun, which is controlled by HCI, spent R220-million renovating two key Durban beachfront hotels and has invested R100-million in refurbishing its Southern Sun Waterfront Hotel and building a new hotel, 177 Empire Place, in Sandton.
Other developments announced include the Radisson Blu Le Vendome Hotel Cape Town, the Thaba Moshate Hotel in Burgersfort and upgrades to Emperors Palace in Kempton Park and the Mmabatho Palms Hotel in Mahikeng.
Hilton has 37 hotels in Africa and plans to build 29 in the next few years.
A three-year upgrade has just started on the Hilton in Durban, a welcome sign of new investment after some volatile years following the 2010 soccer World Cup, which didn’t provide the sort of tourism riches that many had expected.
Tourism revenue grew more than 10% in 2010, but fell more than 18% in 2011, according to a report by PwC.
In 2012, it clawed back some of this ground, growing 12%.
The PwC report said that by 2018, there will be an estimated 63 600 hotel rooms available — up from 60 900 in 2013.
In the report, Nikki Forster, PwC leader of hospitality and gaming, also said capacity was growing faster than room supply, so the occupancy rate for hotels would rise to a projected 71.1% in 2018 from 58.9% in 2013. The average rate will climb to R1265 in 2018, a 6.2% compound annual increase from R935 in 2013.
Hotel room revenue is expected to climb to R20.9-billion in 2018, up 11.2% compounded annually from R12.2-billion in 2013.
Fitzgibbon said South Africa was the most competitive region on the continent.
Its faltering economic growth is not worrying him. He said Hilton was in the business of investing long term, so recent economic woes did not deter the group.
Book your seat here.
Join the discussion here.
Follow Alive2Green on Social Media
Michelle Grant, travel and tourism manager at Euromonitor International, looks at the impact of Ebola on Africa‘s tourist industry.
Since the outbreak of Ebola was declared a global health threat by the World Health Organization in August, the outbreak in West Africa, mainly in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, has had a disproportionate impact on international tourism to Africa. Tourism declines have been noted in countries thoughts of miles away and without the virus. However, the Ebola outbreak in the hardest hit countries seems to be improving and some scientists are optimistic about containment within a year. Once containment happens and is well known, Africa can start the process of rebuilding its tourism industry.
Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone account for less than 1% of international tourism arrivals to Sub-Saharan countries according to Euromonitor International, but fears about the virus are impacting countries thousands of miles away from the epicenter and have no cases of Ebola. A Safaribookings.com poll of 500 tour operators in Africa found that 50% of operators experienced cancellations due to fears about the virus and 69% said that they’ve experience noticeable declines in their future bookings.
The Hotels Association of Tanzania noted in October 2014 that business had declined by 30% to 40% compared to the pervious year and that bookings for 2015 were down by 50%. South African tourism players, One&Only and Go2Africa, have also discussed declines in their business due to fears of Ebola.
There may be hope for a turnaround in the near term, though. According to the WHO’s Ebola situation report from 10 December 2014, Ebola incidence is decreasing in Liberia, increasing or stable in Sierra Leone and slightly increase in Guinea. The race is on for vaccines and anti-viral medications while tests are being done on blood from survivors—all in hopes of containing the virus. Some scientists think that the Ebola virus can be contained within a year.
Once containment happens, it is likely that the positive news will be widespread, alleviating fears about the virus in Africa. It is during this time that private and public players in Africa should work together to promote Africa as a destination to international tourists, who are much more likely to come once the threat of the virus, is contained.
How has Ebola affected your tourism business? Tell us here.
24 June 2015.
Book your seat here.
Follow Alive2Green on Social Media
A new Italian machine appears set to bring about a revolution in the treatment and disposal of infectious and dangerous medical waste – and it may soon also prove to be a vital weapon in the fight against Ebola.
The Newster NW10, imported to South Africa by Alloro Africa Enviro Services, may well be the final solution to the problem of illegally or accidentally dumped infectious medical waste and the dangers it poses to people, especially children.
It already promises to dramatically ease the task of handling infectious waste at large health care facilities, including any materials and waste products that had been exposed to lethal organisms such as the Ebola virus.
Handling and disposing of items such as bedding, clothing and used medical supplies that had been exposed to deadly infections have become one of the greatest challenges facing medical personnel engaged in combating outbreaks.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa clearly illustrated the problem of dealing with such items.
The illegal dumping of medical waste has also taken on serious proportions in the country, costing local authorities millions to clean up. Last year, it was estimated that there had been 985 illegal dumps in Cape Town alone according to a report published in the Cape Argus last year.
Over the past decade, there had been numerous reported incidents of medical waste dumped illegally, even in places to which children had access.
Cleaning up illegal dumps was costing the city as much as R200 000 a day, a city spokesperson said at the time.
The first Newster NW10 machine, imported from Italy, has been undergoing extensive testing in Cape Town and the results appear to have borne out the manufacturer’s claims.
The machine has now been independently certified in accordance with the national Department of Environmental Affairs, said Alloro Africa Enviro Services director Carlo Bovetti.
“The response to the machine has been overwhelming and, in conjunction with top South African scientists, we are currently discussing doing feasibility studies for the destruction in loco of medical waste from isolation wards where patients could be treated for deadly infections such as Ebola,” Bovetti said.
“This waste definitely cannot be transported on our public roads.
“The World Health Organisation has assumed a new aim and slogan in their approach to the handling of infectious waste – ‘zero kilometres from the cradle to the grave’. This means they do not want the waste to be transported in an infectious state. The Newster system offers exactly that.”
The machine has been designed for hospitals and other health care facilities where medical waste is produced in large quantities. It is powered by three-phase electrical power obtained from the health care facility’s own power supply and is simple to use, requiring basic operator training.
Medical waste is placed in the machine according to the capacity of the specific model of machine and after a period it is automatically discharged, completely shredded, unrecognisable and sterilised.
The machine turns waste into homogeneous dehydrated granules, reducing initial volume by 75 percent approximately and its weight by 15 to 25 percent, depending on humidity in the waste to be treated.
“The Newster NW10 is environmentally completely safe. It is not an incinerator, it does not burn waste and independent environmental tests have proved that it does not give off harmful vapour,” Bovetti said. “It uses the friction of a high-speed blade to finely shred the waste and heat it uniformly to a temperature of exactly 150°C, which completely sterilises it and destroys any pathogens and/or viruses.
“Any medical waste, from used bandages, to syringes, cotton, everything, can be treated by this machine and the waste that comes out is a completely neutral, sterile shredded mass.”
Bovetti said the system was already in use in many parts of the world and was widely used in Europe.