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’20th UNWTO best attended’

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Zimbabwe and Zambia, co-hosts of this year’s United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly have recorded the highest number of delegates attending the 20th session.

Report by Melissa Mpofu in Victoria Falls

The conference was officially opened at the Victoria Falls hotel last night.

The assembly which kicked off on Saturday was declared by UNWTO secretary general, Taleb Rifai as the best attended in the history of the organisation with a record 900 delegates from the media fraternity, 121 full delegates from the member states, 140 delegates from all over the world, 49 foreign ministers and 750 other delegates attending the event.

Addressing guests during the official opening of the 20th session of the UNWTO general assembly, the secretary general expressed his appreciation for the immense effort put by the co-hosts in the hosting of the event.

Rifai challenged delegates to actively participate in the tourism indaba stating that UNWTO was committed to promoting tourism growth in sub Saharan Africa.

“We affirm our commitment to place tourism high on the political and economic agenda and to ensure that we co-operate ever more to promote policies that ensure sustainable and exclusive growth in this industry,” he said.

Rifai said the general assembly was a unique tourism indaba to celebrate Africa considering that his organisation had projected an estimate of 134 million people to visit Africa from across the world in support of Africa’s tourism by 2030.

Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe who was present at the ceremony said UNWTO’s decision to hold the global event in Zimbabwe and Zambia inspired them to maintain friendly relations with the whole international community, even with those countries with which they may not agree on all matters.

Mugabe said it was very critical that Africa evolves strategies that effectively lure tourists to the continent.

“The type of seamless border between Livingstone town and Victoria Falls town that has been put in place for purposes of this conference should become the rule rather than the exception, for all adjacent touristic border communities throughout SADC, and ultimately throughout Africa.

“The thematic thrusts you (UNWTO) intend to pursue in this conference which are summarized by the catch phrases ‘Open boarders and open skies, removing hurdles to the growth of tourism in Africa’ are very apt in our times.

“There is no way Africa can increase its portion of the global tourism cake without first promoting intra-African travel. The need for open borders, through regional block visa regimes, which we are trying to implement as UNIVISA through RETOSA, will not only allow easier travel amongst SADC citizens, it will make it easier for the long haul intercontinental visitor and investor,” said Mugabe.

Through a video message played on his behalf during the opening ceremony, United Nations secretary general, Ban ki Moon called on those attending the general assembly to deliberate on how best their countries could contribute to sustainable tourism.

“Tourism is an undisputed driver of economic growth which can benefit people. If managed sustainably, it will assist countries to meet their millennium development goals which we hope to achieve,” he said.

Zambia President, Michael Chilufya Sata congratulated the two co-host countries for the hard work they had done in preparing for the event stating that the co-hosting was a clear testimony of the two countries commitment of exploiting regional tourism.

Zimbabwe’s tourism minister, Walter Mzembi said Victoria Falls, one of the world’s seven wonders would never be the same again as preparations were underway to market and promote the tourist resort more.

There are plans to accommodate wider bodied aircraft at the Victoria Falls International airport, a move which will see more tourists visiting the destination.

“Victoria Falls has already attained full cyber city status and government has identified land which will be used to make the resort more attractive to tourists. Victoria Falls will never be the same again,” said Mzembi.

He further challenged African countries to be united and maintain peace and stability so as to improve Africa’s 3% contribution to global tourism revenue.

Telecel was not to be outdone during the opening ceremony as they lit up the Victoria Falls Bridge as part of its contribution to the hosting of the UNWTO general assembly.

Afterwards, people celebrated with South Africa’s renowned jazz artiste, Hugh Masekela who delivered a top drawer performance. The Celebration Choir, which was the opening act, also delivered a spirited act.

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