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Zimbabwe tourism industry on recovery path

THE country’s tourism industry has been on a recovery path since dollarisation in 2009, a development that has seen the return of tourists

THE country’s tourism industry has been on a recovery path since dollarisation in 2009, a development that has seen the return of tourists from the traditional source markets such as the United Kingdom and United States. NewsDay Business Reporter Victoria Mtomba (ND) spoke to Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) chief executive officer Karikoga Kaseke (KK) about recent developments in the sector.

Below are excepts from the interview:

ND: Tourist arrivals for the first half of the year increased by 12%. What are your projections for the second half of the year considering that it’s the time when the sector performs better?

KK: The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) forecasts continued growth in international tourism in 2013 by 3% to 4%. With the rekindling of the country’s major markets, arrivals into Zimbabwe are anticipated to ride on this positive trend yielding an average growth of 10%-15%. This is so especially in view of the current performance of markets like China, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea and France. Positive trends in 2013 are also expected to hinge on the enhanced accessibility into the country, a stable post-election environment.

ND: How many tourism operators are registered with the authority? From your own point of view, what has been the performance of these operators?

KK: Currently there are 1 328 registered operators. Looking at the accommodation sector for instance, the average hotel occupancy rate rose by 2 percentage points to 41% in the first half of 2013 from 39% in the previous year. In terms of restaurants and fast foods, the expansion programmes by most major operators is a clear indication of the increased demand for eating out, by the domestic market mostly, signifying an increase in business performance for this sub-sector. Similar expansions due to demand have also been seen in the area of transportation over the past three years with some major transporters in the industry acquiring more luxury vehicles and coaches, for example, Pathfinder and City Link. It is clear that operators in many sub-sectors are experiencing an increase in their performance although there are other sub-sectors that are still suppressed, for instance, the performance of camping which in the past was driven by backpackers particularly from markets like Australia.

The increased performance by some in the tourism sub-sector can be attributed to a stable economic environment which has allowed more participation by the domestic clients as well as by increasing international arrivals.

ND: Do you think there is more room for new operators in this economy or the market is saturated?

KK: In line with global tourism trends and the ever-increasing regional trade and travel, tourism is expected to continue growing at an exponential rate, which makes it the fastest-growing economic sector globally. As such, more operators are expected to invest in the tourism sector. This is cemented by the expected growth in domestic tourism considering the stabilisation of the economy and increased disposable income that comes with it.

A number of opportunities still remain untapped especially due to the immense need for product diversification in the sector to accommodate more untouched niche markets. For example, currently there is a huge gap in the hospitality sector because of the general lack of budget hotels in the country. Most of the potential local clientele cannot afford the pricing of the existing hotels, hence the need for lower-priced facilities.

ND: The sector, like all other sectors of the economy, has been affected by poor infrastructure due to lack of investment. What is required to revamp tourism infrastructure?

KK: Zimbabwe suffered for almost a decade from economic challenges which resulted in the dilapidation of some of the country’s tourism facilities. As such, there is need for more affordable lines of credit to allow tourism operators to carry out the necessary upgrading exercises. Interest rates should also come down as the current interest rates are inhibitive for tourism operators. There is also need for the government to extend incentives such as duty-free rebates in the tourism sector.

ND: How far are you with your township tourism initiatives? Immediately after the launch of township tourism, it seems the authority went quiet about it. What is happening with the initiative?

KK: After the launch of township tourism in Harare’s Highfield suburb, stakeholders have gone to Soweto for case studies on how best the concept of township tourism can be adopted. ZTA, in collaboration with the National Museums and Monuments, has identified possible routes to be developed to cover iconic sites in Mbare, Highfield and in the city centre. National Museums and Monuments, our partner in this project, is currently working on the storyline of the routes and important sites along them.

ZTA has also taken the concept to Bulawayo. Firstly, we engaged Bulawayo stakeholders to solicit their input, and we did a thorough inventory of what the city has to offer. We identified the three pillars that underpin tourism in Bulawayo as heritage, culture and township life. Right now, plans are at an advanced stage to do an official launch under the modified term “Heritage and Cultural Tourism”. A tourist guide of the monuments, places and sites of interest in Bulawayo City and its environs will also be published, to augment the launch of Heritage and Cultural Tourism later this year. Thereafter, ZTA will take the concept to other parts of the country.

ND: Can you say the United Nations World Tourism Organisation conference added value to tourism in this country and what way did it do that?

KK: The co–hosting of the UNWTO General Assembly by Zimbabwe and Zambia provided the two countries the rare opportunity to showcase their tourism products to the world and provided a platform for the much-needed destination endorsement.

This is especially so for Zimbabwe which has for a long time had image issues which needed redress. By hosting the General Assembly, Zimbabwe been acknowledged by the UNWTO as a safe destination, meaning any conference of any sort can be held in the country. It should be noted that it may take at least two to three years for the fruits of hosting UNWTO to become visible.