Zimbabwe flagFrom : Allafrica.com

By : Walter Mzembi

6 March 2012

“Since the inception of the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry in 2009 when I was appointed its head, we have analysed and reviewed our national tourism and sought to understand how far we had travelled, largely with the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority at the centre.

We have sought to understand where the world is with tourism and sought to understand what makes our tourism tick and what challenges the sector faces. We started off with an All Stakeholders’ Conference in April 2009, where we sought to understand perceptions of all players and stakeholders from all over the country, including industry operators and government policymakers.

We then took on a United Nations World Tourism Organisation linked tourism consultant who spent time in the country, surveying the whole tourism landscape before he submitted a report setting out his findings. What he thought were our strengths, weaknesses and challenges, before recommending what he thought was the best way forward.

We immediately went out into the world and engaged tourism players at both bilateral and multilateral levels, seeking to understand the state of global tourism, best practice, and how best to re-engage and start working towards the regaining of our place of pride as a tourism destination among other members of the international community.

On the basis of what we learnt over the years we have decided to broaden both the meaning and functions of our national tourism. At the conceptual level we have redefined our national tourism, in terms of its products and attractions, to denote a lot more than the neo-colonial connotation of products and attractions and the few iconic features defined as such by the colonials.

These are features like the Victoria Falls, Cecil John Rhodes grave in the Matopos, five-star hotels, and other exclusive localities separate and removed from the ordinary citizen. We have also moved away from the general understanding of a tourist as a foreign visitor.

We now conceive of tourism as an experience, by one person(s) belonging to a particular locality and culture or subculture, of another person(s) belonging to a different locality and different culture. This clearly makes all Zimbabweans potential tourists and hosts, irrespective of whether they are domestic or international.

Our definition also makes the entirety of Zimbabwe a tourism development zone. On the functional level tourism no longer involves one entity, being the subject, to see, watch, enjoy and the other entity, being the object to be seen, watched and enjoyed, but involves two entities interacting with each other.

At international level we have not only rejoined the UNWTO. We have proceeded to gain a seat on the organisation’s highest decision making body, the Executive Council. Last October in Gyeoungju, South Korea, our bid to co-host the UNWTO 2013 General Assembly at the Victoria Falls with Zambia came out tops, after shoving aside bids by Russia, Turkey, Qatar and Jordan. In 2010, we chaired Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa.

We have also since signed several Memorandums Of Understanding on co-operation in the field of tourism with Tourism Ministries of other countries on the continent and beyond. Thus, in our conceptualisation, domestic tourism becomes a tool for national healing and cohesion, while at international level it becomes a tool for international understanding across cultures and state boundaries. Going forward we will remain actively engaged with our international tourism partners continentally and globally, at bilateral and multilateral levels.

ZTA will invite increasing numbers of international visitors to our Sanganai/Hlanganani and A’sambeni travel expositions especially the former, where “the World meets Africa”. Most importantly ZTA attends international travel exposition throughout the world and conducts promotional roadshows in selected overseas markets. At regional level we will up co-operation with neighbouring partners and go into regionally integrated product development and marketing with them, in order to attract and interest overseas long-haul visitors. This will be emphatically the case with our consolidated wildlife conservation areas like Kavango-Zambezi and the Great Trans-Limpopo Conservation Areas. Still at the international level, we expect to enter the global Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions industry. As the world increasingly globalises and competition and competitiveness grow in importance, side by side with the need for greater international understanding across various divides in order to ensure global peace and order, the MICE sub-sector will become increasingly important.

MICE has become very important as a category of travel and tourism. The MICE industry is worth approximately US$300 billion per year, which is 20 percent of all the revenue generated by international arrivals. Australia’s MICE industry generates US$2,3 billion per annum and sits at 8th position in the world. Thailand launched its MICE initiative in 1998 with no measurable market share and initially had no reliable statistics to measure performance.

However, MICE visitors to Thailand increased from 378 449 in 2004 to 740 412 in 2010, revenue rose from US$795 million to US$1,68 billion.

Other non-European key players in the global MICE industry are India, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Malaysia and the Republic of Korea. Africa’s share of the global MICE market is only about 4 percent and 58 percent of this 4 percent is with South Africa. The Cape Town International Convention Centre sits in 31st position globally. Kenya’s Kenyatta International Conference Centre which is Africa’s 4th follows after South Africa, Egypt and Morocco and is Africa’s largest south of the Sahara. Our planned Victoria Falls International Convention Centre, set to host the 2013 UNWTO General Assembly, is bound to become a major contributor of tourism revenue to the Zimbabwean treasury. On the domestic front in as far as product development is concerned, we are satisfied that the wide diverse range of natural and cultural resources allows Zimbabwe to go into various types of tourism besides general leisure tourism, these include Health Tourism, Historical Tourism, Religious Tourism, Village Tourism, Township Tourism, Agricultural Tourism, Manufacturing Tourism, Military Tourism, etc.

Zimbabwe with its abundant inland fresh water bodies in the form of Water Falls and Hot Springs has great potential for establishing a thriving Health Tourism sub-sector. Gashing water and salty hot water, associated with waterfalls and hot springs respectively, are doted all over Zimbabwe.

The Niagara Falls on the border between the United States and Canada earn revenue of up to US$30 billion annually between the two countries. Compare this to the paltry US$1,2 million earned by the Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Canada and the United States make millions of dollars from Indian and Chinese visitors, who believe water spray from the Niagara Falls has a spiritually cleansing effect on their bodies. Zimbabwe’s rich history, including the Chimurenga Wars can easily be captured in libraries, museums and theatres for the experience of the tourists. Literally, every district in Zimbabwe must have a village in the vicinity of which a battle or two were fought during the liberation war. Such locations could be enshrined and locals could tell stories, sing and dance to educate and entertain tourists thus creating a booming tourism business.

The same can apply to Township Tourism, where the village experience would be substituted with a township experience. I believe the military, can play a leading role in capturing this history, because some of you actually made this history. This could also capture the post independence military experience in Mozambique and the DRC, about which legendary exploits and manoeuvres on the land and in the air have been told.

Some of the old aircraft used in these wars, if now decommissioned could be part of military museums, but better organised and maintained than our rather feeble attempt in Gweru. It is in the above context, ladies and gentlemen that I have set up a National Tourism and Heritage Advisory Council, a think-tank to advise me as Minister on ensuring that these planned developments are underpinned by sound ideology and practicality.

The 50+ member Council has representation from a wide spectrum of Zimbabwean society including academics, industry players, ideologues, religious leaders, traditional chiefs, the youth, women and the disabled, from all corners of Zimbabwe. Besides advising on policy and other issues the members will be expected to play an active role in the process of product development in their own local areas. In due course I will propose that the Council co-opt members from the Diaspora to make representation more complete.

That said I must conclude with cautioning that there will obviously be challenges on the road to growing travel and tourism into a strong anchor for the Zimbabwean economy.

These challenges mainly relate to the pillars of the Hexagon of National Branding that I have had occasion to refer to in the past. The theory is that in order to market a country as a destination for tourism and investment, there are six areas that need to be effectively taken care of’ these include, Tourism, Investment and Immigration, Exports, Culture and Heritage, Governance, and the People.

We expect all the six pillars of the hexagon to perform well enough to enable us to reach our goal of making Tourism the anchor of Zimbabwe’s economy.

For now I have set the Ministry a target of 5 million arrivals per year, earning annual revenue of US$5 billion by 2015, when we hope to contribute 15 percent of the national GDP.”