TOURIST arrivals in Victoria Falls declined by 21% in the first quarter of the year after many potential visitors cancelled trips citing the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
Zimbabwe, like other Southern African countries did not record any Ebola cases, but there were a number of false reports about the disease in the media.
Victoria Falls-based Employers’ Association of Tourism and Safari Operators president Clement Mukwasi described the first quarter of 2015 as the worst in terms of tourist arrivals.
“The first quarter was very bad. We were severely affected by Ebola -elated cancellations across all sectors and as such, we closed the quarter at 21,4% below last year during the same period,” he said.
However, Mukwasi, who works for Shearwater Adventures group in Victoria Falls, said tourist arrivals had started to improve.
“As we start the second quarter, we are beginning to see improvements in bookings and we believe they would come into fruition,” he said.
“We have seen the American market coming up as a result of the aggressive campaign the industry is undertaking.”
“If everything goes well and bookings we are getting come into fruition, we are going to achieve better results in the second quarter compared to last year.”
Mukwasi said the Ebola outbreak that killed thousands of people in West Africa exposed the lack of coordination between the government and private sector in the marketing of Zimbabwe as a tourist destination.
“We need good public relations as a country and we should dispel misconceptions that there is Ebola in Zimbabwe,” he added.
“The cancellations we had in the first quarter were a result of bad publicity we got from foreign media houses.
“We should go out and tell them (Europeans and Americans) that there is no Ebola here.”
The decline in Victoria Falls tourist arrivals came after a positive growth in the country’s tourism industry last year.
Zimbabwe’s tourist arrivals increased by 2,6% to 1 880 028 in 2014 from 1 832 583 recorded in the previous year, but the figure was still 0,7% below the overall regional growth rate.
The country recorded a marginal 3% decline in total annual earnings to $827 million from $856 million in 2013.
While the percentage growth slightly fell below the Sub-Saharan growth rate of 3,3%, the country registered growth in arrivals from all major source regions except Asia.
According to the latest tourism sector performance overview report for 2014, Zimbabwe recorded 85% of tourist arrivals from low value markets.
African arrivals dominate the list at an average 1,6 million followed by the lucrative European market at 137 000 and America at 66 000.
The Asian market accounted for a paltry 42 000 arrivals with the Middle East settling for 6 000.