Our perceptions and attitudes to tourism have not been influenced by poverty, a general lack of interest or ignorance, but mainly by the fact that local communities have not been fully initiated and factored in the national tourism management policies.
guest column: Peter Makwanya
When one asks the local communities and school pupils on the number of national parks and other tourist attractions Zimbabwe has, one will get the shock of their live.
Local people have limited knowledge about tourism, because it is believed only foreigners are critical to the growth of tourism.
As such, it is important that such perceptions are deconstructed, so that new and progressive world views are given a chance.
As neutrals, we call upon the responsible authorities to bring in a new impetus and nurture correct attitudes within local communities.
What is needed is an inclusive approach to sustainable tourist development.
As the situation is right now, local communities feel ostracised and shunned from tourism, an activity they are expected to participate in.
Our recreational culture, as local communities, is not tourism-oriented.
We do not have a culture of visiting tourist attractions, as the fees are exorbitant.
For quite a long time, local communities have been cultured to learn about the Victoria Falls, the Great Zimbabwe monument, Matopos Hills, Hwange National Parks, the picturesque Eastern Highlands and other places of similar nature from newspapers, radio and television.
Where it not for conferences and workshops, even the educated ones would not be aware of these centres or attractions, yet it is supposed to be in us as locals to visit those places.
With such a mindset, it is impossible for locals to make a meaningful contribution to environmental management, which includes looking after these places of interest and heritage well.
If local people play a sustainable role in tourism development, then it will be a given that they take it upon themselves to ensure these areas are protected.
Even the diction used to communicate and market tourist destinations is not inclusive and does not accommodate the interests and aspirations of locals.
In this regard, there are a myriad of issues, that are detrimental to community tourism like the charges which are beyond most locals, language that is not inclusive and the reluctance of responsible authorities to be people-centred.
Although it is a fact that local tourism is highly influenced by foreign tourists, a complete blackout on local participation is not empowering.
Education and awareness programmes are necessary for local conscientisation and appreciation.
Community-based tourist and climate information centres are necessary in this regard and will move a long way in closing this gap.
Gone is the era of thinking that foreigners, particularly whites, are tourists and we should promote local tourism.
When the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were formulated, they purported to be inclusive, but this is far from the obtaining situation on the ground.
Enshrined in SDG 8 (by 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products), 12 (develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable tourism, which creates jobs, promotes local culture and products) and 14 (by 2030, increase the economic benefits of Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism) is the concept of promoting sustainable tourism and protecting biodiversity as key elements to ensure the sustainability of resources.
In other countries, local tourism is booming and one wonders why our tourist attractions are so elitist and exclusionary to the extent of denying local communities a sustainable footprint.
The youth need to grow up with a comprehensive knowledge of how to manage external shocks in the tourism sector, as a result of climate change.
People also need to share information and knowledge about tourist destinations.
This will also help in increasing the adaptive capacities of any given country.
By so doing, local communities will also be empowered with context specific knowledge of climate action and protection.
Without the comprehensive and sustainable knowledge of tourism, locals will not be able to participate in climate friendly initiatives to reduce their carbon footprints.
This would also mean that all stakeholders will be taken care of by participation in sustainable tourist development.
And finally, this would in turn, lead the way in environmental management.
Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his own capacity and can be contacted on: email@example.com