Thousands of workers in the tourism and hospitality industry could lose their jobs due to the effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which has seen the industry shut for close to three months.
The industry, according to various sources, could open either in the last quarter of this year or the end of the First Quarter of 2021 depending on the global trends of the virus.
COVID-19 cases emerged when the first case in Zimbabwe was recorded in the prime resort town of Victoria Falls in March this year with the industry enduring the brunt which turned worse when government introduced a total lockdown and closing borders to curb the spread of the virus.
Government has also introduced restrictions including closure of borders to citizens of high-risk countries while imposing mandatory quarantine on returning residents severely affecting the tourism and safari industry with no respite in sight.
Employers Association of Tourism and Safari Operations president Clemency Mukwasi confirmed the dilemma facing the industry and the uncertainty facing employees in the industry, in an interview with The Anchor.
“The hospitality industry is currently on a ‘shut down’. There are no specific time frames within which the industry will open. All is going to be dependent on advice from the ministry of health and WHO.
“As an approximation, partial opening may happen towards the end of this half and maybe, at the end of Q4 or the first quarter of 2021, the industry may be fully functional with conditions,” he said.
Mukwasi, however, indicated that some major hotels in Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls and few other centres were re-opening under strict regulations related to management of the contagious infections.
“These include social distancing, sanitization and where possible testing of employees. The majority of operators have skeleton staff who are dealing with rescheduling of bookings and attending to international booking agent queries.
“Once the industry lifts the internal lockdown, the industry shall be ready to host domestic tourists on pre-set special pricing models,” he said.
On employees’ remuneration, Mukwasi said, this issue was being handled through legal provisions that dealt with employer and employee relations.
“These include half pay, half work and termination of fixed contracts on notice. Some permanent employees have been retrenched and in other instances, contracts were suspended due to the force majeure created by the pandemic.
“There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to dealing with labour issues. Legal guidelines and opinions from lawyers are being followed by both employers and employees,” he said.
Mukwasi said the reopening of hotels was crucial at the moment at the same time balancing the operations with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are some people who stay in hotels for an indefinite period. These range from diplomats to government officials from other countries.
“The lockdown came while they were already booked. These could not be checked out. Further, it is permissible to open most tourism facilities now in line with the new government policy pronounced in the latest Statutory Instrument.
“One, however, has to follow the guidelines religiously. Where there is demand for services even those who are coming back home and able to pay for their own accommodation, I am sure that legal provision is there for them to stay in a tourism facility while on quarantine,” he said.
Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe president Clive Chinadwa paid tribute to employers who have continued paying salaries to their employees.
He said the emergence of the virus in Victoria Falls at the beginning of March and, subsequently, Zimbabwe’s major urban centres virtually shut the industry.
“Throughout the month of April, our facilities were closed in compliance with lockdown procedures as well as in response to there being no inbound travel or local travel.
“Victoria Falls is currently dead with no travel while a few hotels in the main cities have opened to either cater for essential workers travelling or those returning residents who have to go into mandatory quarantine.
“To sum it up, the industry is still very much at a standstill and in distress.”
He, however, could not predict when the industry would resume normal operations.
“The global economy is also in deep trouble as a result of the pandemic so much that even when travel return, in the initial stages it will be limited due to the lack of disposable incomes,” he said.
Industry experts project a rebound around the year 2023.
He said employer associations and employee representatives are handling issues to do with remuneration of the workers.
“Our industry began feeling the impact of COVID 19 when the pandemic was still almost an illusion to most and also our sector will be the last to be on its feet in the post-pandemic epoch.
“Most of our players have therefore done pretty well to continue paying salaries albeit at different scales on order to protect livelihoods,” he said.
Meanwhile, African Sun Hotels have opened up some of its hotels to the public in line with government lockdown measures.
In its first quarter trading update, African Sun, through company secretary Venon Musimbe said the company undertook to open some of its hotels for the local public sector and non-governmental organisations.
“Under Level Two, in line with the relaxation of the lockdown measures, the Group took a decision to reopen its hotels on a phased approach.
“Under phase one, four hotels being (Holiday Inn Harare, Holiday Inn Mutare, Holiday Inn Bulawayo and Great Zimbabwe Hotel) were reopened on 11 May 2020.
“The Group implemented various health and safety measures as guided by World Health Organization (“WHO”), InterContinental Hotels Group (“IHG”) and government at its hotels,” he said.
Musimbe said the African Sun Hotels Group will continue to assess the risks arising from the virus at all levels as the pandemic evolves.
African Sun Hotels shut its operations at Elephant Hills, Victoria Falls Hotel, Kingdom Hotel, Makasa Sun and Sun Leisure Hotels in Victoria Falls.
It has also closed its doors at Momomotapa Hotel, Monte Casino and Holiday Inn had also been closed.
The hospitality and tourism industry suffered a huge knock early this year after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Victoria Falls – a prime tourist attraction in Zimbabwe.
The resident, who had travelled to the United Kingdom, has since recovered without further infections in the resort town but hotels and lodges were closed as a precautionary measure.