Last year the country was awarded the right to jointly host the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly with Zambia next year.
NewsDay Business Reporter Tarisai Tahungai (ND) spoke to Tourism and Hospitality minister Walter Mzembi (WM) on this and other issues. Below are excerpts of the interview.
ND: How did the tourism sector perform in 2011?
WM: Remarkably well. Our results are there for everyone to see. In tourism we measure performance on the basis of arrivals and revenue generated. So we closed the year at 2,5 million arrivals and just under a billion dollars in revenue.
Qualitatively we consolidated our re-engagement thrust and further repositioned Zimbabwe in the international mindset, the ultimate prize of these efforts having been our now much spoken rights to the hosting of the 20th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly in 2013. We continued to leverage with our seat on the UNWTO executive council to keep Zimbabwe tuned in to ongoing international debate at the UN on tourism and other current global issues.
At regional level our chairmanship of the Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa left significant imprints and took the agenda of regional integration to a new level. So all in all 2011 was our take off year!
ND: What do you anticipate for 2012?
WM: We expect incremental growth in line with National Budget projections that will see us consolidating our second slot position after mining, or even overtake it. This will ofcourse be measured in terms of GDP.
At sectoral level arrivals should exceed the three million mark and we should break and bust the billion dollar barrier. 2012 is our preparation year for the UNWTO General Assembly, and will be our stimulus project for the growth of the sector.
It will measure the commitment of other pillars in the hexagon of branding whose performance is critical for success and these include inter alia; investment and immigration, exports, governance, arts and culture and of course people.
The totality of how these pillars behave in relation to tourism will constitute the Zimbabwean brand, which is what we will ultimately market and promote!
ND: Zimbabwe is soon to host the next General Assembly in 2013. How will this benefit the country?
WM: The General Assembly is a generational and legacy event in the league of World Cup (WC) 2010 in South Africa and the Olympics in the United Kingdom. The benefits are massive and diverse, they are economic , political and social; both tangible and intangible.
This will be Zimbabwes ultimate endorsement by the international community as a key African State on the socio, economic and political global landscape. Of course this event will stimulate a number of legacy projects that include construction of a world-class international convention centre with so many associated ancillary developments.
Airports, roads and other infrastructure will be upgraded. Hospitality infrastrucure including new assets will be added. In short a new Victoria Falls should emerge after the event. At the national level its the restoration of national pride and ego, leveraging with that to position a renewed investment destination. 186 countries will endorse brand Zimbabwe!
ND: How can small businesses benefit from this once-in-a-lifetime event?
WM: Cabinet drafted the Small-to-Medium Enterprises ministry under Sithembiso Nyoni to define and work with me and the committee on an intervention strategy similar to WC 2010.
I envisage sub-contract opportunities on infrastructural and construction interventions, supply chain opportunities, curio bazaars entertainment programmes which will involve the majority of our people.
ND: How do you intend to grow the contribution of tourism to the economy?
WM: We have to put Zimbabwe in the right frame of mind, of a tourism host country, the entirety of it. We want to host the world. Therefore all our actions and speech should converge on this.
This is why at a very early stage, in our mandate we designated Zimbabwe as a tourism development zone, not sections of it as was the case in the past. The Vanilla Islands, that include Seychelles, Mauritius, etc survive on Tourism only. In Zimbabwe we have not only great tourism potential, but other endowments to fully anchor this product.
ND: What are the major setbacks to grow the tourism industry in Zimbabwe and what should be done?
WM: In order to achieve the $5 billion, the sector needs to be enabled in a number of areas; efficiently administered ports of entry a classic case being Beitbridge and our international airports, whose infrastructure should be upgraded; a review of our visa regime and issuing methods, to be made simpler and client friendly.
Funding of the tourism sector, just a tenth of current support to agriculture will deliver shocking returns! We need to address perennial and intermittent supplies of energy to the tourism sector, water too. Information and communication technology should enable connectivity and use of plastic money. Our media can assist in the shaping of brand Zimbabwe, by putting greater accent on issues that unite us and positives.
ND: Global airline Emirates on Wednesday last week started plying the Harare-Dubai route. How will this benefit the country?
WM: This is only one Airline, we need many more. Emirates will fly our brand into 100 destinations. We need more of these strategic partnerships. I am informed in the mid 90s we had as many as 45 Airlines connecting us to 100 international source markets, now one airline can do 100. So we need strategic alliances, such as these. The benefit is destination accessibility.
ND: There are several airline planning to resume flights into the country including Namibia Airways and Qatar. What do you make of the renewed interest?
WM: The renewed interest is a manifestation of both political and socio-economic endorsement. Africa is now the opportunity continent and Zimbabwe is its jewel.
ND: Your last words?
WM: Between now and 2013, we shall receive four inspection visits from the UNWTO, beginning with the first one on February 25.