SOME 3 500 international guests from all over the world converge in Harare this week for the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) International Convention, the first time such an event has been hosted in Zimbabwe, the only country in Africa to host an event of this magnitude this year.
They will be joined by over 50 000 local counterparts. This week’s event comes after United Methodist Church’s 117th anniversary yesterday that also drew thousands of parishioners locally and elsewhere.
Later next month, over 400 delegates will converge in Victoria Falls for the Insurance Congress of Developing Countries meeting, the first time this event is being held on African soil.
All these events are not coming to Zimbabwe by accident, but because the country has proven to be a good destination for holding such meetings. This shows growing confidence by the world travellers on Zimbabwe, and once they are welcomed they become the country’s ambassadors in their countries.
The JWs event this week could be by far Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Walter Mzembi and Zimbabwe Tourism Authority chief executive Karikoga Kaseke’s biggest break since they came onto the tourism scene.
Zimbabwe successfully co-hosted the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly with Zambia last year, and although the arrivals were very limited the spin-offs – in the form of these gatherings speak for themselves.
There is also no doubt that it is a vote of confidence in both Mzembi and Kaseke who are leading the Brand Zimbabwe campaign. These gatherings dovetail from ZTA’s new thrust to attract tourism through meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE).
Mzembi has been telling all those who cared to listen that religious tourism plays a big part in boosting tourism receipts, but this has been met with mixed feelings.
Faith based tourism contributed 300 million to the 1,1 billion global arrivals in 2013. Mice tourism rakes in three times more receipts than leisure tourism with knock-on effects on local hotels in terms of revenue generation.
The mice business has potential of growing tourism receipts from the current $1 billion annually. The tourism ministry has projected that tourism receipts could hit the $5 billion mark by 2020.
But for this to succeed, Zimbabwe has to adopt the open skies policy to allow more airlines to fly into the country, and do everything possible to keep those that are already flying into Zimbabwe. Policies must change, the mentality of the immigration must change, and the politics must change to build international appeal. Immigration officers must undergo serious training in handling visitors as they sit at the country’s reception desk.This also includes the relaxation of visa conditions to nationals from source markets.
Cabinet ministers must do less talking and more action. They must leave tourism authorities to do most of the country’s branding.
Government ministers must go out and lobby for international meetings to be held in Zimbabwe. Besides, convention facilities must be built as well as lodges to accommodate more guests.
Kaseke alluded to it last week saying the JWs had deliberately not invited over 50 000 Witnesses in South Africa as it would have presented accommodation challenges to Zimbabwe.
At a time when the country needs money, each and every potential dollar should be collected. Imagine the impact that has been created by JWs international convention and what the 50 000 more visitors from South Africa could have done to Zimbabwe.