Tourism loses $1m to Ebola

HARARE - Zimbabwe's tourism industry players have lost more than $1 million in income following cancellation of a key international conference due to Ebola scare reports, the country’s tourism council said.

The country was supposed to host the 18th Insurance Congress for Developing Countries (ICDC) in the resort town of Victoria Falls, but the event was called off at the last minute.

Francis Ngwenya, Zimbabwe Council for Tourism (ZCT) president, said the loss was as a direct result of alarmist media reports on the fatal disease.

““If you repeat that (Ebola false report) and send another story (online) that will be very negative... the loss was a total value of over $1 million that the conference could have taken to tourism players in Victoria Falls,” he said.

Ebola — an infectious fatal disease marked by fever and severe internal bleeding, spreads through contact with infected body fluids by a virus whose normal host species is unknown — has ravaged West Africa, killing about 3 400.

According to the World Health Organisation, the death toll is expected to reach 10 000 by year-end.

ICDC organisers had already barred West Africans from attending the indaba in a bid to prevent a possible spread of the highly contagious disease.

Grace Muradzikwa, the organising committee’s chairperson, said the number of expected delegates had gone down to 250 from an initially estimated 700.

Countries expected at the event — to be hosted by Zimbabwe for the first time — included Bahrain, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Botswana, Dubai, Kenya, Philippines, England and Vietnam.

This comes as ZCT says it will be hosting its congress next week under the theme “Enabling Tourism is Enabling the Zimbabwean Economy to Grow.”

Its chief executive Paul Matamisa noted that they were pushing to ensure that stakeholders implemented resolutions that came out of the congess in order to stmulate growth .

“We have the ministerial forum which will be discussing and debating issues affecting our industry were we want to make sure that henceforth resolutions will bring more growth,” he said.

Matamisa added that apart from a keynote address from ZCT’s patron Vice President Joice Mujuru, they will be bringing in an international tourism expert to share global trends in the sector for local tourism players to catch up.

The open skies policy — to enable more airliners to access the country — pushing for e-visa processing are some of the key issues to be discussed at the congress.

Zimbabwe’s tourism industry is currently recovering after taking a knock due to political instability and an economic meltdown.

Latest Zimbabwe Tourism Authority statistics indicate that the country recorded a two percent growth in tourist arrivals from 1 794 230 in 2012 to 1 832 570 in 2013.

Despite the increase, the arrivals are yet to reach the peak of 2,2 million tourists recorded in 1999.

The majority of 2013 arrivals were low-spending tourists from mainland Africa who came in at 1 570 799.

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