TOURISM industry players have up to end of next month to regularise their operations in terms of foreign agreements and offshore accounts or face penalties by the central bank as nearly half of the operators are said to be flouting the laws.
The deadline is an extension from the initial August 31 cut-off that was issued through the Monetary Policy Statement where the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) directed that tourism operators regularise their foreign agreements and offshore accounts.
Many players in the sector operate offshore accounts in different countries and are legally expected to declare those funds within 90 days of business after which the funds are classified as externalised funds.
The players also enter into tourism agreements with international partners such as travel agents and these agreements should be lodged with the RBZ for monitoring of business and flow of funds.
It has, however, emerged that most tourism players are not doing that hence the RBZ has made the directive, which has been extended to October 31, after it emerged through engagements with the Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe (TBCZ) that many of the tourism players were not aware of the requirements.
Tourism is one of the major foreign currency earners in the country contributing immensely to the national Gross Domestic Product but there are fears that the sector could be under remitting because of lack of updated statistics on the central bank end as a result of lack of compliance.
RBZ and TBCZ are conducting workshops to train tourism operators on exchange control policies and administration of offshore accounts and tourism agreements.
The sessions have been done in Harare and Bulawayo and yesterday it was in Victoria Falls. There are about 1 726 registered tourism facilities in the country and that includes restaurants, guest houses, travel agents, hotels, tour operators and hunting operations.
Of these, those registered for TRAS1, a form used by RBZ to monitor operations and for submission in the non-consumptive sector are only 828, making 52 percent of the total.
This means that 48 percent of tourism operators are not registered with the RBZ and, therefore, not compliant. The reason for non-compliance, according RBZ principal analyst Mr Godfrey Chokwa, is that some are not aware, some are new and others do not want to comply.
The RBZ has set up a tourism desk to monitor compliance and gather statistics, which is crucial in policy formulation and calculation of Gross Domestic Product.
“As the RBZ our role is to fully account for the revenue that is generated from the tourism sector. So, in this regard, as a bank we have come up with instruments that we use to collect statistics and we have what we call a Form TRAS1 introduced to account for earnings in the tourism sector but as a bank we are really worried in terms of the statistics that we are getting from the tourism sector, which currently stands below 50 percent,” said Mr Chokwa.
“This results in underreporting of figures that we have as a country in terms of contribution of the tourism sector. So, this engagement is to ensure that we bring everyone on board in terms of the requirements and expectations of the bank in terms of submitting statistics. Without statistics we will not be able to come up with effective policy formulation.”
Mr Chokwa said their thrust was to bring on board all players to register for submission of reports and compliance with set requirements.
He said it is a requirement in terms of regulations that all designated tourism facilities submit information regarding their earnings from both foreign and domestic tourism as well as employment statistics.
They are supposed to do that on a monthly basis before the 15th.
“They submit to the Reserve Bank their domestic and foreign earnings for statistical purposes compilation of GDP, balance of payments and also for effective policy formulation,” said Mr Chokwa.
“We have been engaging tourism operators and we started in Harare, Bulawayo and now Victoria Falls as the Exchange Control is calling upon operators to self-regulate, do the needful and submit returns.
“This is not a witch-hunt and we are saying those that have been operating should come and regularise and going forward we would have to register as and when we consummate them.”
He said tourism operators, because of the nature of their business, have offshore foreign currency accounts that they open outside the country.
“They also have tourism agreements. So, the issue is that they are supposed to register all their agreements and offshore accounts so that we are aware of the business that they are doing,” said Mr Chokwa.
“The monetary policy statement had given them up to 31 August to regularise the deadline, which has been extended to 31 October. After 31 October the bank will sit down with all tourism stakeholders and for those not fully compliant the bank will take measures.”
Meanwhile, the operators have pledged to regularise as they also raised concerns about some policy gaps. TBCZ president Mr Wengayi Nhau said between now and 31 October consultations will continue while operators regularise for the industry to be fully compliant.
“We are following up on the latest monetary policy review where tourism operators were called upon by RBZ to regularise their contractual agreements with different suppliers outside Zimbabwe, as well as issue of operation of offshore accounts that may exist in some of the operations,” he said.
“RBZ expected us to regularise by the 31st of August and then as a big industry spread across the country we reached out and agreed that maybe before we expect everyone to comply, we first interrogate why operators are not compliant and found that some are not aware of the requirements hence this exercise where the RBZ is going around the country to the major tourism destinations by province.
“The major issue is to do with statistics, we want tourism to claim its rightful position in terms of contribution to national economy.”