Covid hotspot tag buffets Kariba’s houseboat tourism business

By Nhau Mangirazi

The declaration of Zimbabwe’s major tourist resort Kariba as a Covid-19 hotspot has created anxiety for tourism service providers there, not least houseboat operators.

In response to a sudden spike in Covid-19 infections, the Government of Zimbabwe imposed strict targeted lockdowns in identified areas including Kariba. 

The measures include prohibition of travel into or out of the restricted areas, with specific exceptions. 

Kariba depends to a large extent on tourism to sustain livelihoods and drive the town’s economy. Operators are worried about both the impact of local infections on their health and safety and the toll that loss of business will have on their operations.

Popular with domestic as well as international tourists, house-boating is one of Kariba’s key attractions. But the thriving houseboat business ventures are struggling to remain active in light of the global Covid-19 pandemic, which has had a deleterious effect on most businesses in commerce, industry and other sectors globally. 

For Kariba, where Zimbabwe and its northern neighbour Zambia,  share the benefits of a destination with one of the world’s most celebrated man-made lakes including power generation, being outed as a pandemic hotspot has serious consequences. 

Some prospective customers have raised concerns over their safety and cancelled bookings despite such bookings being permitted. 

Kariba Publicity Association (KPA), confirmed that the Covid-19 lockdowns are bleeding the sector hard. 

The association is made up of nine corporate entities running operations that include inland travel such as houseboat excursions, nine small to medium enterprises, tourism and hospitality services and kapenta fishing industries, the last a thriving enterprise in its own right.

KPA information and publicity officer Alois Chimbangu said they are still assessing the financial impact but indications on the ground painted a gloomy picture.

‘‘We are yet to collect and collate all needed information as well as feedback from our stakeholders to quantify the nature of losses suffered after the lockdown induced losses,’’ said Chimbangu.

He said all has not been rosy in the sectors that include tourism, informal trading, and kapenta fishing among others that they cover.

Chimbangu said: ‘‘Initial indications are that there were many sudden cancelations by clients who could not make it to travel along the highway from as far as Harare among other towns. 

“They feared driving into a declared hotspot. Many have also put on hold their travel plans as they are not sure for how long this state of affairs will last.”

He added: ‘‘We have been allowed to take bookings but the hotspot tag has seriously impacted on the destination.

We know all stakeholders are working on making the aftermaths and impacts manageable.”

Even houseboat owners and operators are worried. Some of the fears stem from reports from Zambia across the river (Zambezi, on which Lake Kariba sits), where daily infections as high as above 3,000 have been reported. 

‘‘We are worried about our safety in the houseboats business as Kariba is under localised lockdown and a hotspot,’’ said Richard Mambayo.

However, marine operator, Obert Mapara, said they are working under strict conditions to help out their clients.

He said: ‘‘Crew are to be tested every fortnight and clients are to be tested before coming on board. We regularly undergo temperature checks before boarding and our boats are sanitised before and after each trip where 50% of capacity is encouraged.”

He called on the public to be vigilant and take all precautions as prescribed by health professionals.

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