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By : Isdore Guvamombe

THE 37th edition of the Africa Travel Association (ATA) congress, scheduled for Victoria Falls from May 17 to 22 has been oversubscribed with almost 400 delegates and 16 government ministers confirming their participation. Vice President Joice Mujuru is expected to officially open the conference, with five Cabinet ministers due to address the various sectors of the conference.

The last time the ATA congress was held in Zimbabwe was in 1988. It is largely seen as an opportunity to market tourism to mainly the American market, which remains the world’s biggest economy.

ATA was formed in 1975 with the sole aim of promoting travel into Africa. It is assumed by the experts that it is critical for Zimbabwe, which has identified tourism among the four pillars of its economic recovery plan to market and promote itself as a safe and attractive destination. Zimbabwe Tourism Authority chief executive Mr Karikoga Kaseke yesterday told journalists in Harare that they had anticipated the traditional 300 delegates normally attracted by the conference.

By yesterday at least 370 delegates had confirmed their participation. In the history of ATA the highest number of government ministers in attendance is six. Zimbabwe has thus made history by attracting ministers of tourism from Senegal, Gambia, Zambia, Ghana, Central Africa Republic, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Seychelles, Chad, Kenya and Namibia, among others.

Diplomatic missions accredited to Zimbabwe, among them the embassies of the United States of America, Zambia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, India and South Africa, have also confirmed participation.

“We are more than happy with the events around ATA,” said Mr Kaseke. “We are, in fact, oversubscribed and have almost 400 delegates out of the 300 who normally participate. We have to spend around US$450 000, at most, on making this congress a success and the returns will depend on how our tourism industry responds to the congress and its opportunities.

“We will have about 16 ministers of tourism coming for the event which VP Mujuru will officially open.

“We have 24 local media personnel and 16 foreign journalists registering to participate and that is good for us.” Zimbabwe is using the ATA as a test run for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation 2013 General Assembly to be held in Victoria Falls and Livingstone, Zambia.

ATA is meant to test the systems in place notably transport, communication, accommodation and hospitality. So far, Zimbabwe has received pledges of up to US$500 million to retool and re-kit the tourism industry, including “signature” infrastructure that will leave memories in the resort town.

But Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi was reluctant to provide real figures and infrastructure development until the implementation matrix is in place.

“We will announce the finer details in due course but we have received quite exciting pledges that will allow us to leave a mark on the landscape of the resort town,” he said.