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File photo: O País
After two atypical years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Mozambican tourism sector is in full recovery. The resumption of domestic and international flights is reviving the travel industry, although turnout in restaurants and hotels is still low, and operators want government incentives.
Covid-19 wreaked havoc in Mozambique’s tourism sector. Travel agencies, restaurants, hotels, resorts, casinos, beaches and other leisure facilities felt the effects of the restrictive measures in force within the scope of the Public Calamity Situation.
Hotels and restaurants suffered the steepest drop in turnover, with a reduction of more than 95%, according to data from the private sector.
The damage to corporate coffers from what the CTA calls a “very serious and profound situation” is estimated at nearly US$71 million.
The effects are still visible. The newspaper ‘O País Económico’ has learned that some restaurants in Maputo are still closed. In fact, in the country’s capital alone, more than 6,000 workers entered the unemployment statistics at the peak of the pandemic.
It is against this backdrop that operators recognise that the sector is recovering, albeit slowly in some subsectors due to the severity of the impact of Covid-19 and the current challenges facing consumers’ purchasing capacity.
In restaurants, for example, the level of customer affluence has not yet reached pre-pandemic levels, according to the Associação de Restauração e Catering (Restaurant and Catering Association).
The president of the association, Aurélio Maússe, points out that the rise in fuel prices and the consequent rise in the price of food products had a double impact on the operation of restaurants seeking to recover from the crisis.
“First, because operating costs have increased. Then because people don’t go to restaurants, don’t spend money, because life isn’t easy. If six months ago I ate cheaper, today I eat more expensively at the restaurant, and if that’s the case I don’t go to the restaurant, I look for other alternatives… and this does not bring cash flow into the restaurant sector,” Maússe commented.
“Tourism will take some time to fully recover”
The private sector says that the suffocating effect could have been minimized if the government had taken measures such as reducing taxes and creating tax incentives.
“The electricity and water bills remain the same. No hotel has received government assistance. Taxes remained the same, the only help we had was from God. We survive thanks to what we have produced over the last few years,” said Vasco Manhiça, a hotel manager in Maputo, who says that the government should exempt companies from some costs in times of crisis.
Manhiça went further, stressing that “politically speaking, it is common to think that the government should give, but this is not the time to play the blame game, this is the time to look ahead”.
“The only thing we want are these incentives. We had the scenario of a hotel with an occupancy rate of less than 1% and hotels which even had no room occupied. The Covid watchword was ‘stay at home’; staying at home is not tourism and hotels live off tourism,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, the scenario remains challenging. Hotel occupancy rates are still below expectations, frustrating the appetite of operators in the subsector.
Manhiça speaks of a false perception of reality, given that occupancy rates currently stand below nine percent, a change hoteliers see as a shake-up. In this context, it is believed that tourism will take some time to fully recover.
“The resumption of flights and the reopening of borders mean a small change, but tourism is still only taxiing to the runway,” said Vasco Manhiça.
The subsector says it is not optimistic about the deadlines for a satisfactory recovery. “Hypothetically, we will only reach a 23% occupancy rate again at the end of 2023,” he adds.
Travel agencies see upturn
The increase in the flow of travel both domestically and internationally is notable, driving an increase in turnover of companies in the travel sector, mainly in the business tourism segment.
According to the president of the CTA Tourism, Hotel and Restaurant department, at the moment there is a fever for travel.
Muhamad Abdullah points out that tourism is in full recovery, because “we have already reached the peak, which exceeds pre-pandemic numbers and, at the moment, the indicators for the sector are encouraging”.
So Abdullah understands that it is still possible to achieve the goals set for this year in terms of receiving tourists.
“The more restrictions that are lifted around the world, concerning, for example, the waiver of the obligation to present a Covid-19 test for those who have the vaccine up to date, demonstrates that there is this vision, on the part of the public sector, in the sense of facilitating, so the national market can accompany this wave of international recovery in the tourism sector.”
But all is not well with the government’s approach to facilitating the tourism sector. Abdullah also understands that the government must take measures to encourage the entry of tourists into the country.
Apart from the need to resolve the conflict in Cabo Delgado, which is still an obstacle to the sector, the issuance of entry visas should improve, above all, with digitisation.
“There is still some ambition [for improvement on visa granting] concerning the granting [of visas]. Often, the tourist is at the mercy of the migration officer’s mood,” he explained.
Abdullah does not discount the issue of infrastructure as a fundamental component of the tourism sector. “From the moment we are able to easily bring tourists into Mozambique, we create an appetite in the private sector and attract foreign investment,” he said in conclusion.
By Mustafa Leonardo