The tourism industry is arguably the most hit by the never-ending Covid-19 pandemic and has been surviving despite recurrent lockdowns.
The sector has been on a roller coaster ride in 2021 and the problems seem to be an ongoing battle getting into 2022.
The industry thought all hope was there when the Government relaxed Covid-19 rules last festive season and hotels saw total occupancy levels increase to 22 percent.
Being one of the most lucrative periods of the year, they were way below par, but it was a welcome development with the hope of a better 2021.
Six days into the new year, another hard lockdown was put in place, painting a grim picture for the closest holiday, Easter, which is the second-largest revenue earner for the industry.
The first quarter was absolutely wiped out with the second wave running rampage in the country.
As a result, the Easter holiday saw hotel occupancies fall to 20 percent which was 2 percent lower than the 2020 festive season.
This hit the industry which was already in intensive care unit. Treasury got the grasp of the problem and decided to come up with a US$500 million Covid-19 relief fund for the sector.
Lockdowns were relaxed in the second quarter, with domestic travel beginning to gain traction, giving the sector a lifeline when it needed it the most.
Like the virus had not done enough damage to the sector, another wave came through in late June, causing the closure of business till August 2021.
As a result, the sector missed the opportunity that comes with the heroes’ holiday, but that was the beginning of a better half of 2021.
Low-cost carrier, fastjet Zimbabwe in October said it will introduce a flight between Victoria Falls and Nelspruit’s, Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport in South Africa starting mid-March next year.
The additional route between Zimbabwe and South Africa will initially be operated by fastjet three times a week, on a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The carrier said it will increase to a daily service effective from July 2022.
In November, resort towns and Bulawayo hotels were all fully booked, with companies and non-governmental organisations, relishing the opportunity to host off-site workshops and 2022 strategic meetings.
This gave the industry hope for a better festive season and a great start to the new year.
Almost all hotels and lodges in resort towns such as Kariba, Masvingo, the Eastern Highlands and Victoria Falls are fully booked for the festive season as the travel bug continues to spread among locals.
This dovetails with the domestic tourism drive being pursued by the Government in the face of the Covid-19 global pandemic which has restricted travel from traditional international source markets.
Locals have always munched on the margins of the tourism cake, but that is all set to change as people shake off the boredom of staying indoors during the lockdown.
However, the sector is set for another grim ending to the year as a new mutation to the virus named Omicron has entered the space leaving the hospitality sector clutching at straws. The country is, however, yet to record a case of the variant since SA disclosed its detection last week.
President Mnangagwa on Tuesday then took a stance that all returning residents and visitors have to undergo PCR testing and will be quarantined at their own cost, for days recommended by WHO, even if they present negative PCR test results from elsewhere.
The discovery of the new variant presents an added risk, which compounds the burden the industry already faces.
With Europe being one of our biggest tourist markets, travel restrictions to this country have dampened the mood of the industry ahead of a fully booked holiday.
Zimbabwe is among several countries from the southern African region facing travel bans by Western countries including the US and UK.
International airlines including Qatar and Emirates have also halted flights to the country.
The sector which is struggling to beat the effects of the virus has once again been given a blow by the pandemic, and looking ahead, it is going to be a turbulent year again for tourism unless herd immunity is reached.