ztaTourism as a growth industry has a lot of advantages for a country such as Zimbabwe.

It is labour intensive right across the board from building hotels to looking after visitors, so providing a lot of jobs at many levels of skills and probably creates more jobs for every dollar invested than any other industry.

And the skills required are largely available in Zimbabwe. So a labour-rich but investment-poor country should look hard at the industry. Secondly, the bulk of the material goods required – construction materials, food and the like – are produced in the country. So a growing tourism sector can benefit a lot of other local industries and farmers.

Besides upstream industries, such as brick makers and beer breweries, there are the downstream industries, everything from entertainers and restaurants to artists and craftsmen.

Tourists do not spend all their money on food and a bedroom.

Zimbabwe has a good base for attracting tourism. We all know about Victoria Falls and the animals.

But these can only be a base. You cannot spend that many hours looking at the Zambezi going over a cliff and a few days in game reserves will let the average tourist see just about everything in the way of Southern African game that a non-specialist in African zoology would care to see.

So we have to go further if we are to keep a tourist in Zimbabwe for more than a few days, and we have to offer something different from what they can see in Botswana or Zambia and something more than attractively arranged groups of animals.

And, fortunately, this is what the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority is now trying to do.

The Zimbabwe International Carnival late this month does offer something extra, just as the growing Hifa, with a better mix of Zimbabwean and international talent, is already doing.

Tourists like having fun. And many like to meet interesting people in the countries they visit. A growing entertainment industry can meet both requirements, as well as making that industry a paying career for the talented.

But the ZTA needs to be even more imaginative in its marketing.

One area that must be addressed is that Zimbabwe is a safe country to visit. Violent crime is rare, and compared to some of our neighbours, almost non-existent.

No doubt, as more visitors come, our pickpockets and conmen will try their luck. But those sort of crimes are easy to defeat. We have managed to defeat them before.

Violent crime is far harder to deal with and, fortunately, even when the police were almost totally stripped of resources they managed to keep that at very low levels.

Our politicians, both major and minor, can do a lot to drive home this message later this year when we go to the polls. A violence-free election will be the best advertisement that visiting Zimbabwe could be fun.

We might complain about our roads at times, but at least we have roads and other facilities.

And Zimbabweans are remarkably free of xenophobia, alas not always the case in all of Africa.

There are some areas where we need to think again. Zimbabwe has a well-deserved reputation, unfortunately, of high hotel prices. We know why. Occupancy levels fell in the early 2000s and hotel owners had to cope with fewer visitors, most of them business people.

But to attract more holidaymakers we now need to compete on price as well as service. And that can be profitable. Having 80 percent of rooms filled at US$60 a night brings in a lot more cash than having 20 percent full at US$150 a night.

We probably need a better mix of high-medium-low accommodation in terms of price.

The lower end of the market was largely destroyed in the tourism bust, but even that end needs decent, clean and safe places for visitors to stay. Guest houses in many countries flourish by providing personal service, clean bedrooms and pleasant surroundings without luxury or great expense.

Grading these guest houses and having them in voluntary groups with set minimum standards, is a good idea, as any visitor to South Africa or Nambia can explain.

So, in order to make our tourism industry flourish, we need to build on what we have now, decent resources and a good base in our hotel industry.

This means we must continue to think about what more we can offer a holiday maker, and how we can enhance our facilities while keeping prices and ranges of facilities competitive.

From: allafrica.com

Date: 2 May 2013