CDC endorsement to boost international tourist arrivals

Tirivanhu Kateera

On 7 June, 2021 the United States’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC) released an updated travel advisory, which showed an improved travel safety rating for Zimbabwe and other Southern African countries.

The latest rating saw Zimbabwe being elevated to Level 1, which consists of countries regarded as having the lowest COVID-19 risk for travellers, up from Level 4, which is “Very High” risk.

Earlier this year, the United States of America warned its citizens not to travel much, designating multiple countries, Zimbabwe included, in the “Very High Risk” category. Explaining how it came up with the latest updated list, the CDC said: “Primary and secondary criteria used to determine Travel Health Notice levels were updated to better differentiate countries with severe outbreak situations from countries with sustained, but controlled, COVID-19 spread.”

As a result, the CDC moved 58 countries out of Level 4, the “Do Not Travel” list, and designating them under Level 3, the “Reconsider Travel” destinations. Zimbabwe was one of 34 countries moved to the “Low” COVID-19 level.

Under Zimbabwe’s Level 1, the US only urged travellers to “make sure you are fully vaccinated before travelling to these destinations.” The other SADC countries in the Low category are Malawi and Mozambique. Zambia is in Level 2 (moderate) while South Africa is classified under Level 3 (high).

The US CDC’s revision of the country’s travel safety rating to Level 1 is a welcome development as it has potential to expedite the resuscitation of the local tourism sector post COVID-19.  

CDC’s latest classification is a direct response to the New Dispensation’s well calculated and packaged COVID-19 response strategy, which has become the envy of both friends and foes.

No doubt, this is an endorsement of the country’s efforts in reducing the spread of the virus and will inspire confidence among tourists planning to visit Zimbabwe now or in future.

It is also important to highlight that countries in the Americas are Zimbabwe’s largest tourist source market contributing 101,156 tourists in 2019.

This endorsement by CDC is likely to push up tourist arrivals from the Americas in 2021 and beyond; this is what the sector has been waiting for especially the City of Victoria Falls.

Apart from the Americas; other source markets such as Asia, the Middle East and Europe will be equally motivated to visit Zimbabwe in light of the latest CDC travel advisory and enjoy the country’s star attractions such as the Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park, Mana Pools, Kariba and Great Zimbabwe Monuments.

Tourism experts postulate that whatsoever benchmarks used by the CDC to rank the countries, in the middle of COVID-19 vaccination program, if another assessment is to be made, Zimbabwe might be declared COVID-19 free.

Government has locally mobilised adequate resources to bankroll the on-going mass vaccination programme with the country’s border towns being prioritised, since residents there are at high risk as they are largely dependent on economic activities related to cross-border trade and tourism.

Targeted towns include Victoria Falls, Plumtree and Beitbridge as part of efforts to attain 60 percent herd immunity for Zimbabwe.

To reap maximum benefits from the recent development, tourism players and government must continue to work ensemble to improve service delivery, attract more direct flights into Zimbabwe and intensify marketing of destination Zimbabwe ahead of other regional countries, which have been placed in high risk category.

The message all Zimbabweans and visitors alike should comprehend at this juncture is that; vaccination is the only sure way to return to normalcy and they should not tire to follow World Health Organisation COVID-19 guidelines to consolidate achievements to date.