The once popular Lion & Cheetah Park, located some 25 kilometers (16 miles) west of Zimbabwe's capital Harare, is now mostly empty, hosting only a handful visitors in months amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Even Chinhoyi Caves, once a tourist hub, has lost the mob of visitors to coronavirus and business is in the doldrums, according to tourism activists in the town which is 120 kilometers (75 miles) northwest of Harare.
Not forgetting Cleveland dam about 10 kilometers (6 miles) east of Harare.
Just over a year ago, Cleveland dam used to draw hundreds of indigenous tourists every day, but with the advent of coronavirus, that is no more.
“Very few people come here now since coronavirus broke out, necessitating a series of lockdowns to defeat the disease. There is very little activity as you can see,” a security guard who manned the gate at the popular dam, told Anadolu Agency.
In the vicinity of Chinhoyi Caves, Mike Nharire, 32, who has over the years sold stone sculptors to tourists, has fallen on hard times.
“I have no money. Business is very low now since the government previously ordered closure of tourist spots and it means no money for us depending on providing services to tourists,” said Nharire.
Few tourists visiting Zimbabwe
With very few tourists trickling into the country, for many like Nharire who said he has a wife and three children to look after, it means hard times are in the offing.
Yet the crisis of many like him deepens at a time the world celebrates World Tourism Day on Sept. 27 each year.
In fact, since 1980, the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has celebrated World Tourism Day as international observances on Sept. 27, a date chosen in 1970 when the statutes of the UNWTO were adopted.
But with coronavirus shutting off the industry across the globe and in Zimbabwe in particular, the losses incurred have been colossal, leaving many like Nharire clutching at straws.
According to the UN, the impact of COVID-19 on tourism will cost the world economy $4 trillion, with developing countries among the most affected ones.
Job losses in tourism sector
Of course, that does not leave out Zimbabwe, where an estimated 54,000 people who worked in the sector have since lost their jobs, according to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA).
“Before the pandemic, we had about 120 000 people that were employed in the tourism sector. I can safely say there were 40 to 45 percent of jobs that were lost during this period,” ZTA spokesman Godfrey Koti told Anadolu Agency.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has really decimated the tourism sector in a very big way,” he said.
“You will notice that in 2019, we had contributed about 1,3 billion US dollars into the fiscus. However, that was not to be in the year 2020 owing to the global pandemic, meaning then, we contributed 359 million US dollars into the fiscus, which our target, our comfortable zone was always between six and eight percent contribution to the GDP,” he added.
Tourists dropping in numbers
To Koti, “that speaks volumes in terms of what has been lost from a financial perspective.”
He also said: “in terms of visitors that came, we got about 2.6 million visitors in 2019 and the year 2020 also didn’t see much in terms of international travel which was very limited, highly limited.”
With many having lost jobs in the sector during the peak of the pandemic, officials like Koti, however remain optimistic.
“We are hoping to recover from the effects of the pandemic, but it would definitely take a lot. We are hoping to see an uptake now of more workers in the tourism sector, with Victoria Falls fully operational now, having reached 100% in vaccinating its people,” said Koti.
Last year as COVID-19 cases peaked, the government projected that the tourism sector could lose up to US$1.1 billion due to travel restrictions that crippled the industry.
"We anticipate a consequent fall in tourism business, with the country set to lose between $500 million to $1.1 billion in potential tourism revenue in 2020 from the projected revenue of $1.4 billion," said Mangaliso Ndlovu, Zimbabwe’s Tourism Minister addressing journalists in May.
One lockdown after another has meant that as coronavirus wreaks havoc, tourist spots have turned into white elephants.
Precisely, this southern African nation’s tourism industry has suffered the worst income losses as there are few or no tourists to talk about in the midst of lockdowns to throttle the spread of the feared disease.
So far, Zimbabwe has recorded more than 128,000 coronavirus cases, with more than 4,500 deaths.
More than 2 million Zimbabweans have been fully vaccinated for the virus.
But even then, there is no respite for the tourism industry yet to recover from a series of lockdowns meant to stop the spread.
Wildlife not spared
Even the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority spokesman Tinashe Farawo openly said the authority was not spared by the negative effects of the virus.
“You know wildlife is a business. We have been affected a lot because you must know that our funding is hugely premised on wildlife and with coronavirus, it means our funding is dry. We have lost 70 to 80% of our budget,” Farawo told Anadolu Agency./agencies