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    Monday, 1 June 2020

    Tourism Recovery Strategies During and after COVID 19 pandemic Part 1

    By Phainos Matura

    The global travel andtourism industry is experiencing a tourism meltdown as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic. It is without doubt that the COVID 19 pandemic has brought a lot of negative impacts to the tourism industry. Though there will be no easy return to business as usual period, all hope is not lost. The COVID 19 pandemic might also be an opportunity for the tourism industry to innovate and reengineer its business models and attract more tourists in the near future.  The tourism industry can employ and implement some of the recovery strategies contained in this instalment in order to pick up the pieces and move on. Though recovery is certain, it is important to note that it is going to take longer because of the nature of the disease. The tourism industry is going to remain in the low arguably for the next six to 12 months, with full recovery projected post August 2021. This means that the tourism industry will have to make do with what is presently and practically possible. The industry is the hardest hit given its inherent nature and model. Given that it’s a people driven industry and contact is inherent and inevitable, this means it may be the last industry to fully recover from COVID 19 pandemic.
     However it remains important for tourism industry players to come up with strategies to counter the effects of the pandemic on the tourism business. Surely, the industry can do something to navigate and overcome the effects of the pandemic. Yes it is possible, with the right attitude and correct leadership surely it can be done.  Let me also state emphatically here and now that the tourism industry recovery will begin with the domestic tourism promotion. International tourism is projected to recover much later due to a number of reasons including border closures, restrictions, airlines are grounded and cannot fly across borders without undergoing thorough health checks. All destinations have imposed travel restrictions and are only allowing returning citizens who are first put under mandatory quarantine for varying degrees of duration. Destinations are allowing only essential travel, with all non-essential travel temporarily suspended. This will continue to have a detrimental effect on the tourism industry business performance.

    Though the full extent of the COVID 19 pandemic effects on Tourism are not yet available, it is without doubt that the industry has been severely affected by the virus which has ravaged the globe. It is upon each destination to recreate the tourism industry from the ground it is right now. The industry cannot afford to wait any longer. Given that governments are lifting some restrictions as well as easing on lockdowns, the tourism industry must grab the opportunity and begin to work towards survival and recovery. It is the ideal time to face the beast in the eye and implement a cocktail of measures to save the tourism industry from imminent collapse. The power lies within us, it lies within the tourism industry players themselves.
    Some of the proposed recovery strategies for the tourism sector include;
    • Safety first; the safety of staff and guests remains critical first and foremost. The safety of the society and community is also very important to consider as the tourism industry implements recovery strategies during and after COVID 19.
    • Tourism industry operators must demonstrate care for the staff, care for the clients and care for the community for the recovery strategies to bear fruit in both the short term and long term periods.
    • Work with health authorities in sanitizing their facilities such that the health and safety of guests and staff is guaranteed all the time.
    • It is important to consider rebranding as well as diversifying the market; it is time especially for Zimbabwe tourism operators to unlock the value of the domestic tourism market; targeting the local traveler as it remains the low hanging recovery strategy market.
    • Human capital remains key in the tourism recovery strategy; so it is important for tourism players to keep all critical staff through all possible means, for instance, staff can be send on leave instead of laying them off.
    • Make use of flexible working patterns, introduce reduced work hours such as two weeks in two weeks out, and retrain staff for multiskilling and multi-tasking for the benefit of all.
    • Subject all staff to scheduled health checks and get them involved in issues that concerns their health on a continuous basis.
    • Tourism industry players should focus on their core business and close non-essential services as a way of streamlining the business to manage costs and generate essential revenue for operations.
    • All guests and staff must be subjected to mandatory Corona Virus screening and testing on check in. Those found to be positive should be treated with care following approved health guidelines by health and government authorities.
    • Tourism operators must work hand in glove with health authorities to prevent the spread of the Corona Virus and cooperate and collaborate with other stakeholders in the fight against Corona Virus.
    • Use social media responsibly and effectively to maintain good and profitable relationships with your clients, both current and potential.
    • Tourism operators to utilize the available Tourism Revolving Fund of ZWL $500 million that was availed by the Government.
    • Tourism operators to seek funding from shareholders or from banks to finance recovery given that revenue sources have been disrupted by the COVID 19 pandemic.
    • Tourism operators must make open and transparent communication their pedestal to success through truthful and factual dissemination of information concerning the Corona Virus pandemic to all stakeholders. Communication is the lifeblood to successful tourism recovery. 
    • Tourism industry players should take advantage of digital marketing platforms such as their websites, Facebook pages, WhatsApp groups, email to keep connected with their clients. Though clients may not visit now due to COVID 19 pandemic, keeping a connection with them is essential to build, maintain and promote customer loyalty. Communication is the lifeblood of business relationships. This means that being in a lockdown does not mean that communication is also locked down, it is an opportunity to communicate online with the clients and post educational and interesting material for clients to digitally have an online tourism experience. Be aggressively visible.
    • Design domestic tourism packages that are affordable for locals.
    • Offer massive discounts to clients so that they are persuaded to travel again.
    • Training staff on how to handle clients to prevent infections and transmissions plus to remove fear from staff
    • Staff and guests must be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, hand sanitisers, and must be subjected to mandatory testing and screening.
    • Hotels and lodges can also offer COVID 19 specific services such as setting aside rooms for COVID 19 patients which can be ably used by those with the virus until they recover from the virus. That is, some accommodation providers, as part of being innovative, can turn part of their facilities as self-isolation centres for COVID 19 patients. This is informed by the fact that once a family member tests positive to Corona Virus, it is more ideal for the member to self-isolate more preferably away from other family members; and hotels can provide such facilities and be able to remain in business: this may be the new normal.
    • Hotels and lodges also in relation to the above point can offer their facilities to the government through the Ministry of Health and Child Care, as COVID 19 isolation, treatment and recovery centres for both COVID 19 patients as well as the medical or health staff who will be attending to the patients such that they can avoid interactions with their families to prevent the spread of the virus.
    • Hotels and lodges would need to enforce the adherence to social distancing and other healthy practices such as regular hand washing, avoiding handshakes and hugs, wearing face masks all the time among guests and staff.
    • For accommodation providers it is important to remodel and reengineer the core product, that is, the rooms. There is need to ensure that all rooms become single room facilities with immediate effect, this means that there will be no sharing of rooms, as is common in the industry. Guests can share rooms in exceptional cases such as when it is a couple, otherwise guests must stay in single rooms.
    • Restaurants should move away from buffet service to ideally self-catering and room service. Moreso tables within restaurants must be rearranged to meet social distancing rules.
    • Let’s promote localized weekend breaks within 40km radius to local attractions and places of community life.
    • Let’s be innovative and find ways of promoting what I may call online tourism, just like we do with online shopping of physical goods.
    • Hotels and lodges can encourage guests to bring their own linen such that the fear of contracting Covid 19 from hotel linen is removed.
    • Moreso, it is also an opportunity for tourism industry players to build good public relations by engaging in corporate social responsibility programs in line with the fight against the Corona Virus. This can be accomplished through various ways such as making donations of PPEs to the community, help in information dissemination concerning prevention measures against Corona virus.
    In conclusion, COVID 19 is real and has really affected negatively the tourism industry. Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon the tourism industry to face the beast in the eye and implement some of the strategies outlined in this installment for the industry to survive and recover from the deadly effects of the COVID 19 pandemic.

    Phanos Matura is a Tourism Lecturer at Great Zimbabwe University’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culture in Masvingo. He is the chairman of Masvingo Great Zimbabwe Publicity Association. He is a Tourism Consultant based in Masvingo City. He can be contacted on 0716350675 or pmatura@gzu.ac.zw.

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