Too many high expectations for World Cup


0

The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority had too high expectations that the 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa would bring an influx of tourists to Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

But industry operators in the tourist resort were pessimistic and predicted that 2010 might be the worst year in 15 years.

The director of the ZTA’s Victoria Falls office, Petty Kateketa, gushed that she and ZTA were anticipating a record level of tourists to visit Victoria Falls.

She said that the ZTA was already meeting with homeowners to persuade them to rent private rooms to tourists because it believed that the hotels would be over-subscribed by soccer fans and normal tourists.

The ZTA was afraid that Air Zimbabwe, which had one flight to Victoria Falls, might not be able to cope with the influx of tourists.

 

Full cable:

 

Viewing cable 10HARARE82, WAITING FOR THE 2010 WORLD CUP TO BE OVER

If you are new to these pages, please read an introduction on the structure of a cable as well as how to discuss them with others. See also the FAQs

Reference ID

Created

Classification

Origin

10HARARE82

2010-02-04 10:26

UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY

Embassy Harare

VZCZCXRO6191

RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN

DE RUEHSB #0082/01 0351028

ZNR UUUUU ZZH

R 041026Z FEB 10

FM AMEMBASSY HARARE

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0005

INFO SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 000082

 

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

AF/S FOR B. WALCH

INR FOR T. CHOJNACKI

AF/PD FOR C. ANYANSO

JOHANNESBURG FOR RCO KENT MAY

STATE PASS TO USAID FOR L.DOBBINS AND E.LOKEN

 

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: ECON PHUM PREL SCUL SMIG ELAB KPAO ZI

SUBJECT: WAITING FOR THE 2010 WORLD CUP TO BE OVER

 

1. (U) SUMMARY: In spite of the Zimbabwean government’s attempt to

hype the 2010 World Cup’s ability to bring in a large influx of

tourists, businesses in Victoria Falls are projecting a significant

decrease in business. With the exception of the Zimbabwe Tourism

Authority (ZTA), business interlocutors in Victoria Falls told us

they had made no contingency plans for a large influx of tourists

from the 2010 World Cup. Most admitted they did not know what to

expect and that there had thus far been no coordination with either

ZTA or the Government of Zimbabwe (GOZ). Currently, the hotel

reservation rate in Victoria Falls, the largest tourism venue in

Zimbabwe, is down 30 percent (from normal June periods) for the month

of June 2010. Hotel and safari operators blame the World Cup because

airlines have raised ticket prices for June. Hoteliers and safari

operators are already predicting that 2010 will be the worst year for

hotels in Victoria Falls in the last 15 years. END SUMMARY.

 

NO RESERVATIONS, BUT ZTA EXPECTS RECORD TRAFFIC

——————————————— —

 

2. (SBU) During a recent consular visit to Victoria Falls on January

15 and 16, Conoff and the Consul from the Australian Embassy met with

ZTA, airport authorities, immigration officials, and local hotel and

safari operators to discuss their preparations for spill-over tourism

resulting from World Cup 2010. The obligatory first stop was the ZTA

office in Victoria Falls, a parastatal under the Ministry of Tourism

and Hospitality Industry. ZTA nationally is led by Karikoga Kaseke,

a ZANU-PF strongman, who is also a former governor of Matabeleland

North, the province where Victoria Falls is located.

 

3. (SBU) The director of the ZTA’s Victoria Falls office, Petty

Kateketa, gushed that she and ZTA were anticipating a record level of

tourists to visit Victoria Falls. Because ZTA believed that the

hotels would be over-subscribed by soccer fans and normal tourists,

they were already meeting with homeowners to persuade them to rent

private rooms to tourists. When asked about the current reservation

rate at hotels, Kateketa admitted that very few bookings had been

made as of January 15, but she expected that this would quickly

change after it was announced that one of the World Cup soccer teams

would be staying and practicing in Victoria Falls. (NOTE: Zimbabwe

hopes to entice one of the participating World Cup teams to train in

Zimbabwe. To date, none of the teams have given any indication that

they would use Zimbabwe as a training camp. Most observers believe

this scenario to be unlikely, particularly after the Africa Cup of

Nations incident in Angola where two members of the Togolese

delegation were killed, and in light of the world wide perception

that there is still unrest in Zimbabwe. END NOTE.)

 

4. (SBU) Kateketa dismissed Conoff’s suggestion that Victoria Falls

lacked the capacity to absorb a large number of last-minute tourists.

She stated that the June 2009 summit of the Common Market for

Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) held in Victoria Falls had

demonstrated that Zimbabwe could accommodate a large number of

tourists on short notice. Kateketa also cited the high hotel

occupancy rate in Victoria Falls during New Year’s, which resulted

from the inauguration of a new musical festival. (NOTE: COMESA

delegates generally all used diplomatic passports and were flown into

Zimbabwe on planes owned by their respective countries. The normal

services required by a tourist such as immigrations services or

commercial flights were not needed. As for New Year’s, the majority

of these attendees were Zimbabweans who arrived by vehicle, with a

small percentage of South Africans and Zambians, so most of the

attendees drove themselves to Victoria Falls and did not use

immigration services or airport facilities. END NOTE.)

 

5. (SBU) When asked to explain how the GOZ planned to accommodate a

large number of foreign tourists with limited runway space and no

capacity for night landings at the Victoria Falls airport, Kateketa

referred Conoff to the ZTA office in Harare for details. She did

state that ZTA planned to work with Air Zimbabwe to increase the

number of flights and that she expected many tourists would enter

through the ports of entry in Zambia and Botswana. (COMMENT: Air

Zimbabwe currently has one daily flight to Victoria Falls and that is

often delayed due to mechanical and scheduling problems. It is

unlikely that Air Zimbabwe could handle more than two flights a day.

END COMMENT.)

 

6. (SBU) Kateketa justified the lack of preparations thus far by

stating that ZTA was waiting for the U.S. Embassy to inform it of the

number of American tourists who would be coming to Victoria Falls.

Kateketa believed that we could give her an accurate forecast of

incoming tourists based on passport applications filed in the U.S.

Kateketa doubtfully accepted Conoff’s explanation that U.S. citizens

are not required to inform the U.S. government where they are

 

HARARE 00000082 002 OF 003

 

 

traveling. She then asked how many inquiries the Embassy had

received from American citizens about the World Cup and related

travel to Zimbabwe. After being told that there had been no

inquiries from American citizens, she stated that this was because it

was still too soon to make travel plans and she expected it would

change in February.

 

————————————-

IMMIGRATION HOPES VISITORS HAVE VISAS

————————————-

 

7. (SBU) The Immigration Office in Victoria Falls, represented by a

Mr. Mabika, agreed to meet with Conoff only after a diplomatic note

was submitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mabika stated that

Immigration could be ready at “a moment’s notice” to handle a large

influx of visitors. He speculated that, if necessary, Immigration

would take staff from the smaller ports of entry to add officers to

the airport, although no such plans had been made. Mabika hoped that

World Cup tourists would be Americans because “they always arrived

with visas rather than requesting them at the airport.” He admitted

that the immigration office at the airport was small and typically

did not have more than a couple of inspectors on duty, which caused

long delays when tourists didn’t already have visas.

 

8. (SBU) Mabika admitted immigration authorities had not made plans

to meet with their counterparts across the border in Zambia to

discuss how to coordinate increased traffic at the border between

Livingston and Victoria Falls. (COMMENT: This is striking given the

fact that the airport in Livingston has more daily flights than the

airport in Victoria Falls. The failure to try to reach some

accommodation with Zambian Immigration will most likely result in

fewer tourists crossing into Zimbabwe. Already, Zambia has a

dedicated window at Immigration for tourists crossing by foot, or in

hotel vans from the Zimbabwe side, which is separate from the line

for daily crossers or truck traffic. Zimbabwean Immigration does not

offer a similar service to tourists crossing from the Zambian side.

END COMMENT.)

 

—————–

NO PLANES PARKING

—————–

 

9. (U) The Victoria Falls Airport is a small regional airport falling

under the jurisdiction of the Zimbabwe Civil Aviation Authority. It

operates 12 hours a day and has no capacity for night flights since

it lacks runway lights. (NOTE: Only Bulawayo and Harare have landing

lights, and those are often incapacitated, including once by roaming

warthogs. END NOTE.) Currently, it handles two flights a day.

According to airport officials, the airport can handle a maximum of

ten flights landing a day, providing no aircraft park or refuel. If

the World Cup results in increased flights, arrangements would have

to be made to park planes overnight, possibly in Bulawayo or

Livingston.

 

——————————–

WAITING FOR WORLD CUP TO BE OVER

——————————–

 

10. (SBU) In candid discussions with Conoff, hoteliers and safari

operators said that they expected tourism to be low for the entire

period of the World Cup. One hotel operator bemoaned, “I’m just

waiting for World Cup to be over so I can see if I will have enough

business to actually survive this year.” They complained that ZTA

had greatly exaggerated the benefits that the World Cup championship

would have for Zimbabwean tourism.   In fact, many thought this was

ZTA’s attempt to escape the very real and immediate problems facing

the tourism sector. As of January 15, hotel bookings in Victoria

Falls were down approximately 30 percent for June 2010 versus June

2009. Making matters even worse, 2009 was the worst year on record

for the tourism sector in Zimbabwe. As one hotelier said, “we lost

more tourists to the threat of cholera then we ever lost during all

the political violence stemming from the 2008 elections.”

 

 

11. (SBU) As the threat of another record low year for tourists

visiting Zimbabwe begins to materialize, hoteliers and safari

operators are banding together to share their collective economic

pain with the ZTA. They are actively lobbying for the ZTA to be

disbanded and the current 2 percent tax that ZTA collects from all

hotel guests to be directed to the Ministry of Tourism. This tax was

originally levied as a way of paying for non-infrastructure

investments to support tourism in Zimbabwe, such as the tourism

police. However, the ZTA has never taken on this responsibility.

 

HARARE 00000082 003 OF 003

 

 

Hotel managers told us the money had been siphoned off by Kaseke and

his cronies for their personal use. During Zimbabwe’s

hyperinflation, hotel operators were willing to pay the 2 percent tax

and receive no services in return. However, as the hotel occupancy

rate has plummeted and operating costs have tripled (due to the

adoption of the U.S. dollar as the official currency), these

operators say they can no longer afford the corrupt ZTA.

 

————–

DO-OR-DIE YEAR

————–

 

12.   (SBU) Most hoteliers interviewed told us this was a do- or-die

year for them. Victoria Falls Safari Lodge — one of the highest

rated and busiest hotels in Victoria Falls — shared its statistics

with Conoff. According to the hotel’s statistics, the hotel

occupancy rates for Americans and South Africans decreased from 2008

to 2009 by 22 percent and 16 percent respectively. Since American

and South African tourists account for most of the tourism, this was

a particularly troubling development. Similarly, total hotel

occupancy rates in Zimbabwe declined 16 percent from 2007 to 2009.

 

13. (SBU) Compounding the problem of low occupancy rates are high

operating expenses, especially for electricity. Operators say

electricity rates in Zimbabwe are the highest in the region. In

December the Safari Lodge paid US$14,000 for electricity while the

Kingdom Hotel paid US$25,000. The hotels have lobbied the Zimbabwe

Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) and the GOZ to reduce rates so

that hotels in Zimbabwe pay rates comparable to those in Zambia and

Botswana. Unfortunately, with significant projected shortfalls in

ZESA’s operating budget, the situation appears unlikely to change in

the short-term.

 

14. (SBU) The hotels have also faced a significant increase in what

had been their cheapest operating expense: labor. The hoteliers

stated that with few exceptions they all pay their hotel staff a

minimum wage of US$150 a month. Just a year ago, these same hotels

paid approximately US$50 in cash and goods to these same employees.

So far, most hotels have managed to resist laying off full-time

staff, but they are letting positions remain vacant and they have

reduced temporary staff. As costs continue to rise, most hotel

managers say that they will now have to invest in mechanization for

daily operations (e.g. sprinkler systems to replace gardeners and

electric dishwashers to replace hand washing) as the cost of labor

becomes prohibitive. At the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge alone, an

investment in mechanization would cut 40 jobs. For the moment, many

of these hotels cannot afford the initial investment to mechanize.

 

——-

COMMENT

——-

 

15. (SBU) Tourism is one of the main pillars of the Zimbabwean

economy and critical to the overall economic recovery of Zimbabwe.

For more than a year now, the GOZ and the tourism sector have viewed

the World Cup as an opportunity to resuscitate tourism in Zimbabwe.

Instead, the World Cup has actually decreased the number of tourists

visiting Victoria Falls, which has both short and long-term

implications for tourism in Zimbabwe. Already, several safari

operators in Victoria Falls have moved their operations to the

Zambian side in an effort to capture more tourist dollars. The loss

of these businesses means fewer venues to attract tourists to the

Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls. Without a vibrant tourism

industry in Victoria Falls, it is unlikely that tourists will come to

Zimbabwe and visit lesser known tourist attractions outside Victoria

Falls. Like other sectors of the Zimbabwean economy, tourism is

unlikely to recover without a greater commitment of resources from

the GOZ. Even with additional resources, Victoria Falls may have a

difficult time recovering as Livingston in Zambia becomes known as

the gateway to Victoria Falls. END COMMENT.

RAY

 

(12 VIEWS)

Don't be shellfish... Please SHARETweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email
Print this page
Print

Like it? Share with your friends!

0
Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

0 Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *