OUR tourism industry has become by far the most successful service sector, one of the country’s leading job-creators and cash cow. What with the upcoming United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly set to reposition our premier tourism spot — the Victoria Falls — as a conferencing destination?
Report by Wisdom Mudzungairi
Behind this success lies a fascinating history of great branding campaigns, policy and regulatory changes, budgetary bun fights, strategic thinking and influence of tourism events. Zimbabwe and Zambia will co-host the UNWTO 20th general assembly in the top tourist resort town –Victoria Falls — and Livingstone, Zambia’s second city, from August 24-29. Its preparations started over 10 years ago.
Crafted and honed by gutsy Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) executives, visionary hoteliers, feisty Tourism ministry executives and clear-thinking tour operators, our tourism marketing genius has helped the industry overcome political and economic crises, health pandemics, natural disasters, political wrangling and global and regional problems. Actually, much more could be accomplished.
Without prejudice, Tourism minister Walter Mzembi and ZTA chief executive Karikoga Kaseke and his deputy Givemore Chidzidzi (formerly tourist attaché to Germany) among others in the industry deserve kudos for a job half done. It could have been anyone else other than Mzembi, perhaps his predecessor Environment minister Francis Nhema who made the Tourism minister’s job much easier by preparing the ground.
There is no doubt that our tourism is hinged on the abundant wildlife resource in this country — hence Mzembi and Nhema should work closely together, and by extension Parks and Wildlife Management Authority so that its Zambezi lodges in Victoria Falls are upgraded to world-class. The lodges along the mighty Zambezi River are well placed, and delegates would love to stay in the serene environment — but the chalets are yawning for a major facelift before the UNWTO. It does not make sense for Mzembi to shun or shut out Nhema — whatever the reasons. They are not in competition, but should complement each other.
If Mzembi retains his parliamentary seat on July 31, he would need to overcome another hurdle — his reappointment as Cabinet minister in the same portfolio (unfortunately a preserve of the President). If that happens, this would make him the only Tourism minister to host the world again next year — same time — as already indications are pointing to another international conference of even greater magnitude than the UNWTO. It is something to be proud of, 800 guests is a starting point.
After travelling to the country’s top tourist spot recently, there is no doubt that this has now bred a new set of management challenges that may be more difficult to overcome.
It is, therefore, important that travel trade journalists offer a unique perspective on the future of the country’s travel industry, based on a detailed analysis of the successes and failures of the past. This could include a look at the great branding campaigns that have shaped the industry, the major mistakes the industry has made, game-changing policies that took the industry to a new level, and, very importantly, key personalities who led and influenced it.
And so, presentations that cover a broad range of historic and historical developments that shaped present-day travel and tourism in the country, ranging from great branding campaigns to travel facilitation policies, from crises such as the fast-track land reform and resettlement exercise and Aids pandemic to the Regional Travel Organisation of Southern Africa (Retosa) countries. Very importantly, the country should also discuss the role played by key people who led, influenced and moulded the industry over the years. The reason is that the discussions provide a unique historical perspective that very few of today’s emerging generation of policymakers, investors and strategic planners can match.
Without doubt travel and tourism is belittled by being described purely in terms of economic value and resilience, yet it has become far more important than that.
Youth can act as a driving force for an agenda for sustainability. Tourism can foster tolerance and peace in the world better than any other sector. It promotes harmony amongst peoples and cultures.
In addition, one would have thought that Zimbabwe would suspend visas for the period to ensure easy travel for delegates. The offer may seem a contrarian perspective, but it is time to move away from assuming that we cannot do anything about it. Besides, there is no proof that more visas means more security.
As a recipient of the Silver Jubilee First Achiever (Gold) and Merit (Silver) awards for tourism development in Zimbabwe alongside other eminent Zimbabweans such as ex-Tourism ministers Victoria Chitepo, Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Herbert Murerwa among others, I have been monitoring the pulse of our travel industry full-time. I have benefited from a treasure trove of insights and hindsights on one of the world’s great tourism success stories.