ZIMBABWE wants to re-negotiate a preferential tourism pact with China to be better positioned to attract Chinese tourists, a cabinet minister said Thursday.
Tourism and Hospitality Minister Walter Mzembi said he will travel to China at the end of the month to discuss with his Chinese counterpart the preferred destination access agreement the two countries signed in 2006.
“Our preferred destination access agreement is not operating as we would want to see it happen,” the minister told Xinhua and other media on the sidelines of the annual Sanganai/Hlanganani World Travel and Tourism Africa Fair in Harare.
“I shall be visiting China end of this month to initiate the meetings and discussions to make this agreement more practical and beneficial to Zimbabwe,” Mzembi said.
Zimbabwe considers China a key tourist source market, as the Chinese have surpassed the Americans to become the top spending international tourists in the world.
But only 5,000 Chinese tourists visited Zimbabwe last year, official figures show. The government aims to attract 15,000 Chinese tourists annually by 2015.
South Africa remains Zimbabwe’s top tourist source market. But tourist officials say they want to woo more big-spending foreign tourists from outside Africa to boost tourism income.
Last year, tourist arrivals topped 2.2 million, generating US$770 million.
The government targets annually US$2 billion US dollars tourism revenue by 2015, with the sector contributing 15 percent to the country’s gross domestic product.
Mzembi said major issues that needed to be addressed for more Chinese visitors include visa facilitation and accessibility.
Zimbabwe, he said, had opened itself to Chinese tourists but it appeared Chinese remained reluctant to visit Zimbabwe.
“We get the sense that they are restrained from free to travel into Zimbabwe and into Africa in general,” he said.
Last year, about 83 million Chinese tourists went abroad, but only one million came to Africa, official figures show.
Among the 27 African nations granted “tourist destination status” by the Chinese government, Kenya, South Africa and Mauritius are considered top choices for Chinese if they put eyes on Africa.
Mzembi said the issue of destination accessibility needed to be addressed as there is no direct air link.
He challenged Chinese airlines to operate chartered flights to fetch tourists to the famed Victoria Falls – one of the world’s top three waterfalls along with the Iguasu Falls and the Niagara Falls.Advertisement
“China could dedicate two or three planes that come to Zimbabwe once a week as it is doing for the Niagara Falls,” Mzembi said.
He said the Chinese and Indians were the highest source of arrivals into the Niagara Falls in Canada and yet China did not have preferential agreement with the North American country.
“We want to receive high spending Chinese tourists into this country,” the minister said. “The middle class in China who want to travel and explore the world. Channel them and sign post them in this direction called Zimbabwe.”