International and regional tourism picking up?

International and regional tourism is beginning to improve though the country continues to be plagued by a poor international image and adverse media coverage, one of the country's leading hotel chains, Zimbabwe Sun, says in its latest report.

The company, which admits going through a number of difficult years during which tourism plummeted as one of the country's largest foreign currency earners, says there is now an increase in overall occupancies and a better return on international tourism.

Its turnover for the six months to September, which does not include key international events that took place in the country, the Solar Eclipse and the Miss Malaika beauty pageant, more than doubled from $1 billion to $2.9 billion, surpassing that for the full year ending March which stood at $2.2 billion.

Operating profit shot up from $70.8 million to $887.5 million. The company recovered from a loss of $668.3 million to a profit of $892.6 million. It had a remarkable performance even in inflation adjusted terms.

It turned around from a loss of $4.5 billion to a profit of $772.8 million.

Overall occupancies improved from 42 percent to 45 percent while revenues per room improved by 165 percent from $3 400 to $9 000.

The company says one of the major contributors to profitability was a reduction in finance costs. The company only incurred finance costs of $16.7 million compared to $727.3 million the previous year.

While it had debts totalling $1.96 billion in September 2001, it had net cash of $1.494 billion at the end of September 2002. The debt was eliminated through the sale and leaseback of the Kingdom at Victoria Falls and the injection of cash from the insurance proceeds from the fire that gutted Elephant Hills.

Elephant Hills should be opened in March.

The company, which is now under new management after a local consortium bought a 20 percent stake from an individual shareholder giving them 35 percent of the stake in the company, is confident that given a stable environment profits should improve returning to normal within a few years.

It is already looking at regional expansion and is developing the Archipelago Sun in Mozambique.

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