From : Allafrica.com

By : Walter Muchinguri

21 March 2012

New Delhi — DEPUTY Prime Minister Professor Arthur Mutambara yesterday commissioned the Zimbabwe-India Travel Council, expected to boost tourism between the two countries. The council is the brainchild of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority and the Outbound Tour Operators’ Association of India.

It was mooted following meetings between the two organisations on the sidelines of the Outbound Tourism Mart and the Travel and Tourism Fair held in Mumbai and New Delhi last month.

ZTA chief executive Karikoga Kaseke and Outbound Tour Operators’ Association of India chairman Mr Guldeep Singh Sahni signed the commissioning certificate, making the council official.

DPM Mutambara said there were three issues on which Zimbabwe needed to focus to take full advantage of this development.

He said India had a middle-class population of 300 million, all potential tourists Zimbabwe could entice with its many tourist attractions, apart from offering them an opportunity to see Africa.

“We are saying to them: Come to Zimbabwe and see the rest of Africa,” said DPM Mutambara.

He added that by coming to Zimbabwe the tourists would be exposed to various markets, such as Comesa and other travel destinations in Africa.

He said, in addition, there was need for Zimbabwe to redefine its tourism product by moving towards cultural and academic tourism.

“Let’s start talking of our tourism sites in relation to our liberation struggle: We have places like Chinhoyi and Nyadzonia. Why don’t we talk about them in this respect?”

There was a need to market the country’s academic institutions, such as the University of Zimbabwe, as tourism sites, just as India is doing with its Institutes of Science, Management and Technology.

“Fort Hare, for instance, produced President Mugabe and Mandela. Why can’t we market it in the same way that Cambridge is being marketed?”

DPM Mutambara said tourism growth between the two countries could also foster the growth of trade and investment between them.

“We must use tourism as the beginning of greater things. People come to visit first, then trade and investment will follow. The council we have launched today is a council for trade. It is a council for investment and economic development,” he said.

Mr Kaseke said the council was expected to facilitate tourism between the two countries by tackling shortcomings in visa applications and immigration formalities.

He said through the establishment of the council they were targeting to increase tourist arrivals from India into Zimbabwe from 3 000 in 2010 to about 20 000 by 2015.

“This is a rare opportunity for us to tap into the Indian market which is among the fastest growing economies in the world,” he said

He said they had invited their Indian counterparts to visit Zimbabwe in May, for an appreciation of the tourism facilities available, before they start making bookings.

Mr Sahni said the establishment of the council signified the strengthening of relations between Zimbabwe and India, which dates back to the 17th century.

“Zimbabwe has unique tourism potential and as India we are always on the lookout for new tourism destinations and we believe that this is a step forward for our tourism sectors and we will work closely to ensure that visa processes are simplified,” he said.

He said they had engaged Bollywood producers to use Victoria Falls as a setting for some of their films in order to promote it.

“We are also planning to use our cricketers because, as you know, cricket is like a religion in this country because it has a huge following,” he said.

Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Engineer Walter Mzembi said plans are underway to establish a bureau in New Delhi to facilitate visa processing and completion of immigration formalities for potential Indian tourists.

He said the council was born out of the realisation that a collective approach was needed to tap into the vast Indian market.

“We realised that we could not approach this market as individual companies but we should attack it as an organised group,” he said.