The dust from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly held in Victoria Falls and Livingstone is yet to settle.
The hosts, Zimbabwe and Zambia, are probably still patting each other on the back for a job well done and so too may many of the participants to the event.
However, the danger with such events is they simply end up as talk shops. Worse still, the temptation to rest on one’s laurels for hosting the event is yet another trap.
For Zimbabwe to walk the tourism talk, we need to see more action towards growing this key sector which at its peak in the late 1990’s grew at more than seven percent per annum, then plummeted into negative terrain between 2000 and 2008 at the height of political and economic instability which is on the uphill.
Figures for the growth of this sector since 2009 when Zimbabwe moved over to multiple currencies, which halted hyperinflation, and now sitting steadily since the US Dollar was introduced.
The Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality and the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority are to be commended for the sterling efforts they have been making towards resuscitating the system.
More importantly, the tourism players themselves – under their various umbrella bodies such as the Zimbabwe Tourism Council and the Hotel Association of Zimbabwe – also need to be congratulated on their efforts in sprucing up their facilities in the face of liquidity challenges and a dearth of foreign direct investment.
Nevertheless, there needs to be a more concerted effort towards promoting tourism.
There needs to be a blueprint for stimulating the tourism industry in the form of a Tourism Master Plan. This plan will not leave development in the hands of the tourism industry alone, but emphasizing on the links between this sector and other key sectors.
The plan should rope in the Ministry of Transport for instance, to ensure that destinations are accessible through a comprehensive road, rail and air network.
It must rope in the Ministry of Home Affairs to ensure smooth facilitation of foreign tourists at entry points.
The same should apply to the Ministry of Finance’s Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. The Zimbabwe Investment Authority is also crucial to this master plan, where the tourism sector is sold aggressively to potential investors.
Above all, organisations such as the Department of Parks and Wildlife need to be capacitated better in order to conserve the natural attractions.
There are many under-marketed and unexplored tourism destinations such as the Mavhuradona areas, Chizarira National Park, the Lowveld etc. Concentration is on Victoria Falls alone.
Though it’s our prime destination, it should be used as an entry point only, then visitors should be lured to other areas. Even Vic Falls itself has limitations, with many visitors complaining of the absence of night life for instance. Efforts must be made to attract every penny from visitors.
Above all, we should move away from thinking that only foreign tourists are the movers of the industry. In many developed countries such as the United States and Japan, domestic tourism accounts for more than 80% of tourism activity.
Date: 6 September 2013