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Friday 27 March 2020

Victoria Falls hotels shut down

TOURISM operators and hoteliers in Victoria Falls have resolved to suspend operations to prevent spread of the deadly Covid-19 (coronavirus), which has seen the country recording three positive cases.

Lately, players in the industry have suffered massive cancellations of bookings resulting in room occupancy rate dropping to average two percent in some hotels while others are already at zero. Three quarters of jobs have since been lost after employers terminated contracts while some workers have been sent on forced leave or placed on half salary because of lack of business.

Africa Albida Tourism (AAT), a hospitality group with hotels, lodges and restaurants across Southern Africa yesterday announced that it will suspend operations at all its properties in Victoria Falls for the next three months starting on Tuesday next week.

In a statement, the hospitality group's chief executive, Mr Ross Kennedy, said the affected properties are Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Victoria Falls Safari Club, Victoria Falls Safari Suites, Lokuthula Lodges, The Boma Dinner & Drum Show.
Operations will resume on July 1, subject to the prevailing health situation.

"After deep and careful consideration with our board, shareholders, works council and employees we have made the difficult but correct decision to temporarily cease operations at all our Victoria Falls properties for the next three months. Our last day of operation will be March 31, 2020," said Mr Kennedy.

He said the group considered health and welfare of employees' families, community and tourists. 

"The plan is to commence operation on July 1 but this may be further extended or even shortened depending on the prevailing situation. This is a time of huge uncertainty in our country and across the world and we as AAT have to do our part to curtail the spread of the virus," said Mr Kennedy.

The reservations office will remain open while a skeleton staff will be on standby to deal with affected clients. An official from the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe said operators had been told to follow suit.

"We have engaged the leadership and the industry that if we all care for all our staff we must follow suit and do what's right. We can recover money but lives lost are lost for good and the families will have lost breadwinners," said the official on condition of anonymity.

He said the tourism industry was facing shutdown as a result of coronavirus which has resulted in massive cancellation of trips and bookings worldwide. Some small lodges in Hwange have also reportedly stopped booking people while some businesses and organisations have also closed shop.  

Meanwhile, Victoria Falls municipal police fought running battles with Zambian vendors yesterday as residents expressed concern about laxity of authorities at the country's ports of entry. The vendors cross through Victoria Falls border post every morning to sell vegetables, tomatoes, green mealies and other farm produce as well as clothes and return to their country in the evening.

Authorities at the border said they were waiting for official communication to close the border.

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has also said the industry is uniquely exposed with an estimated 50 million jobs set to be lost globally. WTTC appealed to governments to come up with tourism funds to support the industry.

Source: Victoria Falls hotels shut down (26/03/20)

Thursday 19 March 2020

Vic Falls Covid-19 scare clarified

Leonard Ncube, Victoria Falls Reporter
GOVERNMENT has clarified the case of a British tourist who visited Victoria Falls recently and reportedly tested positive for Covid-19 in her country, saying the woman has actually not been tested and is only in self-quarantine.
Last week, the woman, who is believed to have been in the company of her husband, was reportedly rushed to Victoria Falls Hospital after developing fever-like conditions while checking into a local hotel.
Medical doctors cleared her after she responded to anti-malaria drugs and she exited the country via South Africa on March 10. In a statement on Monday, Health and Child Care Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo reported that the woman had tested positive in UK, raising fears among residents and tourism staffers in Victoria Falls that the coronavirus may have spread.
After making follow ups with UK authorities yesterday, Government established that the woman was not tested in her country as she did not show symptoms of the virus. The director of Epidemiology and Disease Control in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Portia Manangazira said there was no need for Zimbabweans to be scared as no positive case has been recorded. She, however, reiterated the need for people to be cautious.
“Contrary to what the media reported and after we made follow ups, those people are in self-quarantine in UK in line with that country’s guidelines because they don’t fit in the Covid-19 case definition. This is what we got today (Tuesday) that nobody tested them and as such we don’t have an official communication from UK that they tested positive although they are sick with other problems. This, however, doesn’t relax our efforts to monitor all their contacts,” said Dr Manangazira.
She said health officials will go ahead with surveillance measures, especially following up on people the couple may have had contact with while in Victoria Falls and even in other parts of the country.
It emerged that a travel agency that had raised the alarm had not verified the information before relaying it. Fear gripped the country’s prime resort town following the Monday announcement as residents felt the tourism and health sectors needed to tie some loose ends to make sure safety is guaranteed. 
Some questioned the country’s preparedness to detect and deal with the pandemic, which has been declared a national disaster in many countries including Zimbabwe yesterday.
Workers at the hotel where the British couple had checked in had put themselves on self quarantine although health officials had remained cautious. 
Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) Victoria Falls chapter chairperson Mr Arnold Musonza called for maximum sensitisation of citizens at all spheres of life.
“As operators, we have requested to be given guidelines and offered to help with whatever resources are required to fully sensitise the public. We are expecting sanitizers from South Africa as we feel that precaution should start with us. 
“We appeal to every section of society, especially churches, to strongly adhere to safety measures because imagine if something happens at a workplace, the same worker will go to a church gathering and then home and the virus can spread to all those people. We need to be extra cautious at individual level,” he said.  @ncubeleon 

Tuesday 17 March 2020

Vic Falls workers 'vulnerable' after UK tourist tests positive for coronavirus

A British tourist to Zimbabwe tested for the coronavirus in Victoria Falls last week, whose results initially indicated a reaction to malaria medication, was diagnosed positive upon returning home over the weekend.
The tourist, from Windsor, was booked at Ilala Lodge in the resort town. She was there from March 7 to 10.
District medical officer Dr Fungai Musimani initially tested the patient, and provincial medical officer Purgie Chimberengwa told TimesLIVE that it was not the dreaded coronavirus.
After testing positive for Covid-19 upon returning home to the UK, the patient’s agent communicated with Shane White, the marketing director at Wild Horizons, the tour company that hosted the woman.

In a memo copied to all staff members at Wild Horizons, it was advised they must get tested and all company facilities treated.
“She [the woman] complained about feeling unwell and a doctor was called. He agreed she was suffering from a reaction to malaria medication. When [she] got home, she was diagnosed with coronavirus. We have literally just this moment been told. Please can you do all necessary in respect of your staff and cleaning vehicle etc,” states the memo.
Wild Horizons corporate affairs director Barbara Murasirwana told TimesLIVE that the matter has been referred to the ministry of health and childcare. She also communicated with the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe.
The country's minister of health and childcare, Dr Obadiah Moyo, did not respond to calls from TimesLIVE.
Workers from Ilala Lodge said they have been advised to self-quarantine with their families.
“The situation is very tense at work and we are scared. We are still hosting visitors who had been booked through our agents before the travel ban. When they get into the lodge, there is no testing that takes place. We carry their bags at times even without gloves, give them food and clean their rooms. We are just vulnerable and even the company management is panicking,” said one worker.

A worker at the Shearwater Explorers Village lodge said he felt more exposed as he worked at the front office.
Workers earn 80% of their salaries in foreign currency, and the other 20% in local currency. But because of the global ripple effect of the coronavirus, their salaries will be cut by 50%.
“A few days back, the company wrote an e-mail advising us that salaries were going to be slashed by 20% and then today [Monday] morning they circulated another memo announcing a further 50% slash. Bookings lined up for the year have been cancelled. Today we only have nine guests booked in the lodge,” he said.
"We try to sanitise every environment as we have been trained, but we feel that is not sufficient."
Following news of the suspected case, Victoria Falls Primary School on Monday sent a memo to parents suspending all sporting activities and fixtures. School trips have also been suspended. Lessons are expected to continue, albeit without any guarantee.
An estimated one million visitors from all over the world visit Victoria Falls, with a population of 33,360 as of the 2012 census, each year. Recent statistics indicate that the bulk of visitors are from Germany, China, Japan, South Africa and the UK.
Border posts between Zambia and Zimbabwe, like Victoria Falls, are still not screening for the virus. It is the same at the Kazungula border post to Botswana in Kasane, where screening is only done on the Botswana side.
Zimbabwe is yet to officially confirm its first coronavirus case.

Zimbabwe considers financial implications of Kazungula Bridge

Zimbabwe is evaluating the financial implications following its integration into the Kazungula Bridge, transport minister Joel Matiza has said.

Zimbabwe and Namibia were roped into Kazungula Bridge Project in in 2018 as equity partners to help boost construction of the project.

The 750-metre bridge at Kazungula crossing over the Zambezi River  is being constructed at the confluence of Zambezi and Chobe rivers, the meeting point of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Mr Matiza told a regional summit last week that Zimbabwe was in the process of counting the cost of the project.

“We are currently doing computations of the cost of the project and later present it to the cabinet for approval to allow us proceed with the project,” said Mr Matiza.

Once completed, the Kazungula Bridge is expected to facilitate seamless trade within the SADC region.

But the US$294-million project, touted as one of the major SADC economic integration success stories, has been experiencing delays partly due to lack of finance.

Source: Zimbabwe considers financial implications of Kazungula Bridge (16/03/20)

Sunday 15 March 2020

Zimdollar wreaks havoc

THE Zimbabwean dollar has continued its dramatic meltdown as it weakened even further against the greenback this week, 263 days after it was made the sole legal tender.

The local unit has plummeted from ZW$29 to the United States dollar to ZW$40 this week on the parallel market as the authorities struggle to defend the increasingly unstable domestic currency.

Government freed the exchange from February 20 last year as part of currency reforms. It then brought back the hitherto demonetised Zimdollar on June 24, unexpectedly banning the multi-currency system which ensured exchange rate stabilisation and ended hyperinflation in 2009. However, the currency reforms have failed to shore up the local unit which is in freefall.

Currency and exchange rate volatility have had a serious impact on the economy and people's livelihoods with a recent wave of price increases of basic commodities such as bread and cooking oil.

Standards of living for ordinary Zimbabweans and business operations have deteriorated, amid tumultuous price escalations and rapid erosion of income with year-on-year inflation nudging towards the 500% mark.

In a desperate bid to stabilise the exchange rate, government this week set up a "Currency Stabilisation Taskforce" among a cocktail of measures.

Finance minister Mthuli Ncube announced this week the formation of the taskforce spearheaded by his ministry and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and which will include members of the Monetary Policy Committee and Presidential Advisory Council. The new taskforce will be chaired by Ncube.

Among the measures announced by the Treasury boss is the introduction of a "managed Floating Exchange Rate System", in which an electronic forex trading platform based on the Reuters system has been put in place with immediate effect.

"Zimbabwe has had no transparent and effective foreign exchange trading platform for a long time. Consequently, official rates have not been effectively determined, while a thriving parallel market has developed. To correct this anomaly, an electronic forex trading platform based on the Reuters system is being immediately put in place," Ncube said.

Source: Zimdollar wreaks havoc (13/03/20)

Friday 13 March 2020

First destination Spa will soon open in Victoria Falls

The largest and first purpose-built spa is set to open in Victoria Falls in September, placing Zimbabwe’s top tourist attraction on the map as a wellness destination, and tapping into the boom in wellness tourism.

The spa, being constructed by hospitality group Africa Albida Tourism, whose accommodation portfolio is made up of Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Victoria Falls Safari Club, Victoria Falls Safari Suites and Lokuthula Lodges – Victoria Falls, will be named Victoria Falls Safari Spa.

It will include a 280m2 central area featuring manicure and pedicure stations, private relaxation rooms, a restaurant, a hair salon and change rooms. There will be three separate treatment rooms (one double and two singles) located in a tranquil bush setting.

Africa Albida Tourism (AAT) chief executive Ross Kennedy said: “We want to create the leading spa and wellness offering in the region, and in doing so we believe travellers will be encouraged to visit Victoria Falls to take advantage of the spa.” Open to inhouse guests, guests from other hotels and local residents, Victoria Falls’ first destination spa will be ideal for wellness weekends, Monday to Thursday breaks, couples’ and wedding packages where bridal parties can book the spa out, Kennedy said.

“Located in peaceful indigenous woodland – away from the normal hustle and bustle of the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge estate – rich in birdlife, and with the odd warthog or bushbuck passing by adding to a sense of calm and nature,” he said.

Built under canvas, and using the natural landscape, with suspended rope bridges crossing gullies to the treatment rooms, its design will be sympathetic to the environment, he added.

The treatment rooms will have outdoor showers, while the central area will also feature a plunge pool, water features, with the restaurant to serve healthy dishes, including salads, wraps, juices, smoothies and coffees.

Victoria Falls Safari Spa manager Michele Vickery, who has 15 years’ experience as a beauty therapist, said treatments will include manicures, pedicures, waxing, tinting, facials, body treatments and massages, as well as hairdressing services. The spa is expected to create eight jobs. “We are determined to avoid creating a cookie-cutter spa experience. The design, d├ęcor and treatment menu will be linked to and represent Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and the products used will be made in Africa, and contain African botanicals,” Vickery said.

“We will offer a unique and authentic experience, built upon indigenous botanicals, seed oils and
healing practices, ancient spiritual traditions, special minerals, local ingredients and culinary
traditions, history and culture,” she said.

2 Victoria Falls men arrested in card cloning scam

TWO Victoria Falls men have been arrested for fraud after cloning a bank card and withdrawing US$2 400 from an unnamed victims' account.

Courage Mdereseri (26) and Eugene Ndlovu (36) from Chinotimba suburb and Ngugama Crescent respectively used a card cloning machine to wipe clean a man's bank account.

Cloning refers to criminal duplication of one's Automated Teller Machine (ATM) cards, which criminals use to steal cash from bank accounts.

The duo was not asked to plead to fraud charges when they appeared before Victoria Falls magistrate Ms Lindiwe Maphosa on Wednesday.

They were both remanded to 25 March on $500 bail each. They were both asked to surrender their travelling documents, report twice a week at Victoria Falls Police Station and reside at their given residential addresses.

For the State, Mr Onias Nyathi said sometime last year in December, the duo in the company of an accomplice who is still at large, used a card cloning machine to withdraw money from the complainant's account.

"In December 2019 and at African Duty-Free shop, the accused persons possessed two swiping machines to clone the complainant's credit card and went on to steal his money by withdrawing it from his bank account without his consent and knowledge," said Mr Nyathi.

The complainant, whose name was not stated in court papers received a notification message from his bank that he had withdrawn US$2 400 from his account. Investigations by the bank with the help of police officers, revealed discovered that Mdereseri was the culprit and he implicated Ndlovu, resulting in their arrest.

Source: 2 Victoria Falls men arrested in card cloning scam (13/03/20)

Vic Falls tourism affected over coronavirus fears

THE country’s tourism industry has been the biggest casualty of the spreading deadly coronavirus with hotels and tour operators in Victoria Falls recording close to 50% accommodation and activity cancellations.
The cancellations have been compounded by the demand for a health certificate by health and immigration officials at the country’s ports of entry, which industry players said turned away tourists.
Further challenges are that tourists are shunning Zimbabwe amid grave concerns that the country does not have adequate resources to handle coronavirus situations at its border posts and health facilities.
While room occupancy and activity bookings dropped by around 30%, hotels responded this week by terminating contracts of scores of short term contract workers as a result of loss of business.
Mostly affected are waiters and waitresses, chefs and cooks with less than five months long contracts.
The hotel industry usually offers between three to five months long contracts to casual workers starting in March when the industry starts picking in terms of business.
However, many lost their newly signed contracts during the week as the industry responded negatively to fears about the coronavirus.
While no case has been confirmed in the country, fears about suspected cases have led to visitors either cancelling their trips and bookings or asking for indefinite postponement.
The industry, under the auspices of Zimbabwe Tourism Authority convened an urgent meeting in Victoria Falls during the week where they expressed concern about a looming dip in business.
Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe chair for the Victoria Falls chapter Arnold Musonza said the cancellations are too high with some individual operators losing all clients.
“We have had several cancellations as clients ask for postponement or even outright cancellation,” said Musonza.
“This is terrible and we are worried as an industry because many will lose jobs. Right now there is the issue of a health certificate which they are demanding from travellers at border posts when entering Zimbabwe, it is scaring visitors away.”
One hotelier said if the coronavirus continued, it would leave the hospitality industry grounded.
“We are worried to say the least because of cancellations. If nothing is done this coronavirus will leave the industry grounded. As we speak, business has drastically gone down as almost all hotels have suffered cancellations at a time when we thought we were beginning to pick up,” he said.

Thursday 12 March 2020

Covid-19 effect hits Vic-Falls tourism bookings

THE tourism industry in has recorded cancellations of bookings and trips by international travellers following the outbreak of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) that continues to spread worldwide.
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) recently projected that the global tourism industry may suffer losses of up to US$50 billion due to the outbreak of the deadly pandemic.
Covid-19 first broke out in China’s Wuhan City last December and has since spread to other countries, infecting more than 900 000 people and killing more than 3 000, mainly in China. Some African countries have confirmed cases of the virus with South Africa recording seven. Tourism players in the country’s prime resort town are concerned that the outbreak could leave the industry grounded.
Some hotels and operators are reportedly sending workers on forced leave due to lost business. The industry is, however, concerned about what is says is sensationalisation of the situation by the media and have appealed for responsible reporting while also urging citizens to desist from circulating fake news, which negatively affects the fragile industry.
The concerns come after some messages circulated on WhatsApp platforms on Monday claiming that a Chinese woman had been quarantined after showing symptoms of the infection while checking in at a local hotel. Tourism authorities and health experts yesterday said the tourist was actually a British national who only suffered moderate fever and tested negative to Covid-19.
Hospitality Industry Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) Victoria Falls chapter chairman Mr Arnold Musonza said:
“There is not much movement in terms of supplies, which we get from far afield like China and it’s worrying to us as an industry because we have even had cancellations with a lot of clients asking for cancelations or postponement of their trips. 
“We have tried to remain calm so that we don’t sensationalise the situation and we will always conscientise staff and clients to be careful. Our plea is for people to rely on official information and not follow untruths that are circulated on social media. “The media should also not sensationalise because jobs will be lost in tourism. We need more of reassurance from our media because the industry might collapse with this sensational reporting,” said Mr Musonza.
He could not be drawn into giving statistics but industry representatives said almost all hotels and tour operators have recorded some cancelations. HAZ has organized a stakeholders meeting to be held on Friday to talk about the state of the industry in light of the Coronavirus.
Matabeleland North Provincial Medical Director, Dr Purgie Tawanda Chimberengwa, also dismissed as untrue claims that a Chinese woman had shown symptoms of the virus. He said the woman was actually from Windsor in Britain where there is no outbreak and had been cleared as she continued with her tour around the region.
The woman only had fever and was given antibiotics, which she responded positively to before being cleared, highlighted Dr Chimberengwa.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that when a person comes from a country that has Coronavirus then the person is infected. We concluded that she had ordinary pneumonia and as we stand, we don’t even suspect that it was Coronavirus. 
“Our primary problem is the Press, which is panicking about Coronavirus and sending wrong information to the people. The Press should be educating people like what the Ministry of Health and Child Care is doing these days giving daily updates. What we want to reiterate, however, is that people should practice basic hygiene, wash their hands and eat warm food to protect themselves from the virus,” said Dr Chimberengwa.
He urged people not to cause unnecessary panic and to check messages before forwarding them saying unnecessary panic tends to strain the already stressed health system. — @ncubeleon.

Wednesday 4 March 2020

US dollar returns as Zimbabwe govt wavers on use of local currency

THE Zimbabwean economy is reverting back to the US dollar less than a year after the government reintroduced the local currency to assert economic independence.
Over the past month, local businesses have resorted to using the dollar and civil servants want their pay disbursed in greenback, making the government’s policy useless.
In June last year, Zimbabwe abandoned its multi-currency regime, which included the South African rand, US dollar and Chinese yuan; following a decade of dollarisation that was forced by record hyperinflation.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government at the time said the adoption of the Zimbabwe dollar was meant to breathe life into the economy. Now that experiment has been nothing short of a disaster.
The government is now giving certain sectors such as tourism and the fuel industry permission to charge in dollars.
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) argued that it was struggling to harness foreign currency locally to pay for critical imports, this had to endorse the policy reversal. But, it seems the entire economy is going back to the dollar.
Civil servants have, since last year, been pushing the government to pay their salaries in foreign currency, arguing that their incomes are being eroded by hyperinflation.
Doctors working in public hospitals went on strike for over four months demanding to be paid in foreign currency.
They only returned to work in January after billionaire Strive Masiyiwa offered $6.25 million to pay their salaries.
Even informal traders now reject the local currency citing its instability and hyperinflation.
The government already allows for the use of foreign currency for payment of Customs duties on selected products, paying for emergency passports and basic commodities such as food items and fuel.
The hospitality industry is allowed to operate in foreign currency under a special dispensation.
Tony Hawkins, an economist in Harare said the government’s expansion of hard currency exemptions for many sectors was proof that it was fighting a losing battle against the dollarisation of the economy.
“Evidence suggests that de-dollarisation has not worked,” Mr Hawkins said.
The University of Zimbabwe economics professor warned that history was repeating itself citing the 2009 shift to multi currencies where the government had to take a cue from the market.
“Unfortunately, the market decides for the government and not the other way round. So we should stick with the devil we know, which is the dollar.
“The only problem with the dollar is that the authorities can’t print it, but they are spending too much in relation to their revenues,” said Prof Hawkins.
Morgan & Co, a stock brokerage firm said it was clear that Zimbabwe was returning to the dollar instead of cushioning the local currency as shown by the waning confidence in the local currency.
“We are perplexed by the fact the monetary authorities in the country exhibit a lack of touch and appreciation of developments within the broader monetary system,” said Morgan & Co in a review of the RBZ’s latest monetary policy.
“Our concern is that those that follow economic policy developments in Zimbabwe will have to separate fiction from reality so as to make sound investment decisions.”
On Wednesday last week, the International Monetary Fund said Zimbabwe’s economy, which shrunk by 8.3 percent last year, will see stagnation in 2020 with growth of only 0.8 per cent.
The IMF had originally forecast growth of 2.5 per cent in 2020, but revised the projections in the face of another devastating drought.
Morgan & Co said declining exports and low production will put more pressure on the local currency, which might eventually lead to its collapse.
“Industry capacity utilisations have fallen to 27 per cent given that forex shortages are limiting the ability to import critical raw materials,” the firm added.
“We cite that low production volumes will ultimately lead to diseconomies of scale and increase in the cost of production.”
RBZ governor John Mangudya, however, insisted that Zimbabwe’s economy was not dollarising, saying the decision to allow fuel retailers to charge in foreign currency was a strategy to mop up the US dollar that was flooding the parallel market.
“The issue is basically about supply and demand,” Dr Mangudya told Parliament last week. “Foreign currency earned through diaspora remittances tends to go to the parallel market.
“The issue is how do we harness that money into the formal system.
“For instance, we have a fuel bill of $500 million (a month). So it means that if we allow, for example, 30 per cent of the fuel bill to be funded through free funds, it will result in a 30 percent foreign currency saving, monies that will then flow to the interbank market for other uses.”
Zimbabwe has been facing an acute shortage of fuel since late 2018 due to lack of foreign currency.
The country is also struggling to import adequate grain to feed more than half of the population, which aid agencies say face starvation this year unless there is intervention from donors.
Dr Mangudya said the expanding foreign currency exemptions should not be mistaken for a policy shift towards the dollarisation of the economy.
“Allowing the use of free funds within the national economy for payment… should not be misconstrued as going back to dollarisation, but rather, as common good for the country to promote inflow of free funds from the diaspora and necessary to buttress the confidence that is needed under the de-dollarisation process,” the central bank boss said.
Zimbabwe received $635 million in diaspora remittances in 2019, which was a 2.6 per cent increase from the previous year.
President Mnangagwa has been struggling to deliver the swift economic revival he promised at the beginning of his presidency.
His government blames sanctions imposed by Western countries and successive droughts for the stalled economic turnaround.
The European Union, which renewed an arms embargo against Zimbabwe a fortnight ago, says its restrictive measures have nothing to do with the Southern African country’s economic troubles.
On the other hand, the IMF urged the country to fight corrupt “vested interests” and come up with a debt repayment plan in order to win support for its economic reforms. – The East Africa