A DASH of good news from Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city: construction work on a Hilton Hotel is due to begin in October.
With a cloud of political uncertainty hanging over the country and in the midst of a messy “indigenisation” of foreign businesses, it’s a pretty bold move.
The Hilton will need some contingency plans, given the chronic water shortages and power cuts that plague the country. It may find it harder to deal with low occupancy rates across Zimbabwe.
Hilton made its announcement on the same day that figures from the State tourism body showed the industry is still struggling to get people into available beds.
Hotels in the country are still less than half full, a poor advance from last year despite tourism picking up. There is hope for hoteliers as the number of tourists coming to the country has gone up overall by 17%. But that wouldn’t fill the available rooms, let alone any new ones.
The $160 million, 275-bed hotel and office complex will go up in the neighbourhood of Eastlea and construction should be complete by 2016, according to the State-owned Herald newspaper.
Harare Town Clerk Tendai Mahachi told the paper: “As a city we are very excited that such a brand is coming to Zimbabwe. We will do all we can to ensure that the project is a success.”
He added: “The hotel comes with a conference centre with capacity to carry up to 600 delegates, a basement car park with capacity to hold 1 000 vehicles, retail shops, three office blocks, eateries and residential apartments. The idea is to make it a destination to be.”
After a decade of economic turmoil, Zimbabwe’s tourism industry has been gradually picking up in recent years.
Last year, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) said tourism receipts increased from $634 million in 2010 to $664 million in 2011. But challenges remain, including infrastructure and access to working capital, and the quest to get people into hotels rooms remains a problem.
The ZTA’s Q1 2013 report released on Monday stated: “Average hotel room occupancy levels remained stagnant at 46%, while average hotel bed occupancy levels rose slightly from 34% to 35%.”
There are other issues too. Dollarisation has led to complaints of overpricing of services.
And hotel accommodation does not come cheap, with some hotels in Victoria Falls charging as much as $200 a night, putting them out of reach for many local holidaymakers.
The report reveals that while there were increases in occupancy in areas with tourist attractions such as Victoria Falls, Hwange and Nyanga, in Bulawayo and Harare (where the Hilton is headed) tourism remains stagnant or is falling. Masvingo and Beitbridge recorded declines of 20% and 22% respectively.
The country’s tourist market consists largely of arrivals from Africa, followed by Europe. There has also been an increase in visitors from China.
Zimbabwe will be co-hosting the United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s general assembly this year.
Hilton Worldwide is committed to expanding in Africa and we have a long-term goal of establishing a presence in key cities across the continent. We identified Zimbabwe, and its capital Harare, as a valuable addition to our portfolio and we are currently in discussions with partner companies to develop a hotel in the city.