According to recent Press reports, Africa’s largest hotel operator, Accor, is stepping up its expansion on the continent and plans to open an additional 5 000 rooms by 2016.Currently, Accor operates 116 hotels in 18 countries with a combined total of 17 000 rooms.The group evidently has high hopes for the continent. Accor employs 11 000 people in Africa of whom 3 000 are from sub-Saharan Africa.By comparison, Zimbabwe in total had 8 500 rooms in 2008 and is hoping to have 15 000 by the end of this year, according to the Medium Term Plan (MTP).
Is there any chance of that happening?
This year Zambia and Zimbabwe are co-hosting United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly to be held in Victoria Falls from August 24 to 29.
Zimbabwe is a beautiful country with an excellent climate, a friendly people, delightful landscape, and abundant and varied flora and fauna. One thing it does lack though is a seaside resort with the popular beaches.
But elsewhere, they are growing cities into seas and the Kariba shores, with imagination and a stable political and economic landscape, could be turned into manmade sand beaches.
Then, of course, there is the potential of regional co-operation with fellow SADC countries, if only regional economic integration could be expedited.
Among official circles there are high hopes for the tourism and hospitality industry.
Currently the tourism industry is said to contribute about 10% to the gross domestic product.
That is around $1,2 billion. The sector is projected to contribute revenues to the economy in excess of $5 billion by 2015, a rather ambitious target!
Where will the tourists come from? Where will they be accommodated? How will they overcome the fear of cholera and typhoid, a corrupt police force and political instability, all issues that led to the decline of tourist’s arrivals in 2008, according to the country’s MTP? (January 2010 to December 2015) Besides, how will they move around the country?
But despite the formidable negatives, Zimbabwe’s potential for a huge tourism industry, owing to the far superior positive attributes described in the second paragraph, cannot be denied.
The infrastructure as regards hotel rooms and other accommodation, roads, rail and air transport as well as power and water must be in place.
Secondly, as Tourism minister Walter Mzembi said recently, there needs to be “a paradigm shift (in policy) to allow the immigration regime to be altered and bring friendlier visa policies into play”.
Mzembi, who according to a recent Press report was addressing students at Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) Staff College, went on to say: “Immigration is tied up with investment and the turnaround of any economy. Similarly, Zimbabwe needs an immigration regime that polishes its friendship with the rest of the world without infringing on its integrity.”
He could have gone on; a country that needs foreign direct investment into its inadequate and decayed infrastructure to cater for a strong and sustainable tourism and hospitality industry shouldn’t be xenophobic and shouldn’t be racist.
Indeed it shouldn’t be of short vision nor should it be narrow minded.
The MTP hopes to see the number of rooms increased as said above, to allow the number of beds to rise from 12 000 in 2008 to 18 000 by the end of this year.
There is, of course, no chance of this happening. Regardless of what one is told, the government of national unity years, as far as the economy is concerned, are largely lost years, more like the decade before them.
A look at the room occupancy of the two largest hotel chains in the country, as well as their combined turnover, gives rise to the suspicion that the contribution of the tourism sector could be as little as one tenth of official estimates.
If authorities are going to plan properly, they need to quickly revise them downwards to more realistic figures. A detailed marketing study, done by a competent consultancy, should be on the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority’s to do list this year.
It has become the norm for world leaders to look to the East for ideas and inspiration on economic development. David Cameron, Britain’s Prime Minister, having mastered his Chinese Economic Development lesson was in India in February.
He was, of course, drumming up business for British industry and its Financial Square Mile in London known as “The City”.
Cameron proposed a typical Chinese solution to his Indian hosts — building a number of cities between two major areas in India. He is a good student. No wonder he was at Eaton and Oxford.
India’s large population — a large proportion still in the rural areas, a large cheap labour pool and potential enormous demand of all things manufactured — makes India a perfect candidate for the Chinese economic growth model.
We, too, could learn from the Chinese “Greenfield” approach to economic growth strategy formulation. The aging West and China itself not only present enormous opportunities for luxury, but also affordable retirement homes and assisted living homes inclusive of healthcare.
A million such homes would, in the first instance, do wonders for the construction industry over a 10 to 15-year period and thereafter provide $1 billion at least to the economy per month; that is $12 billion per year. It could also possibly wipe out unemployment.
We need to move from the current approach which focuses on the high-end niche, with little employment creation potential to a model that creates lots of jobs.
To do that we need to heed the minister’s wise words at the ZNA’s Staff College recently.
Date: 17 April 2013