THE government is this month expected to launch a new tourism and hospitality policy that will promote domestic tourism to boost the sector’s mandate as one of the key drivers of growth under the Zim Asset economic strategy, Newzimbabwe.com has been told.
Tourism Minister, Walter Mzembi, said the policy – which he expected President Robert Mugabe to announce any time this month – envisaged a tourism sector that is government-led and private sector driven and seeks to designate the entire country as a tourism development zone.
A key element of the policy involves the application of indigenisation regulations to “redistribute the economic opportunity in the sector by making sure that the $2.6bn or so of stock that is in the tourism sector complies with our economic empowerment laws, and in such a manner that it does not disturb existing stock but seeks to grow it,” he said.
When the former indigenisation minister Saviour Kasukuwere last year published a notice directing companies investing in the tourism industry to comply with the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act, critics voiced concern that this would snuff out the recovering tourism industry.
However, the government pressed on, with Mzembi reiterating at the signing ceremony for the proposed Hilton Hotel in Harare in September that foreigners who wished to venture into the tourism sector had to be prepared to comply with the country’s indigenisation laws.
While the Zim Asset document extols the “tremendous potential” of the tourism sector and the benefits accrued from the successful co-hosting of the 20th session of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly by Zimbabwe and Zambia, it also acknowledges the challenges that remain, including poor connectivity of local destinations and perceived country risk.
But on the latter, Mzembi believes the battle of perceptions has been won.
“The main feature of the next five year tenure [for me as Minister] will be the refocusing of the entire team onto domestic tourism – we haven’t really touched on it,” he said.
“Our first five years were basically meant to deal with the issue of perception of the product (Zimbabwe) as viewed from external source markets, and I think we have won that battle as evidenced by the coming of the UNWTO General Assembly to our destination.”Advertisement
“Now we’re looking inside to redefine the product so that we expand its meaning to areas that are relevant to our general citizenry. So you will see a lot and hear a lot about religious tourism, which hasn’t been defined to the extent where we’re leveraging it to extract economic value,” he added.
According to the plan, some churches will be designated as tourist attractions while others will be encouraged to leverage their numbers and invest in the growing transport industry as well as conferencing facilities that could be used beyond their core business of church and faith based gatherings.
In addition to the ongoing Holiday Back Home campaign to tap into the Diaspora market that is being managed by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), Diasporans will also be invited to invest “in holiday accommodation in selected areas that we’re going to isolate for the purpose, such as the Victoria Falls, Kariba, and the areas around Lake Mutirikwi and others,” Mzembi said.
“We want the Diaspora to take a keen interest in pulling their economic might together and making sure that they respond to the incentives that we’re putting in place,” he added.
The country recorded 17 per cent increase in tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2013, with 404,282 visitors up from 346,299 in 2012, according to ZTA’s first quarterly report for 2013.
Zimbabwean exhibitors at the World Travel Market held in London last month spoke enthusiastically about the positive overtures made to them by European tour operators keen to reinstate Zimbabwe on their Southern Africa itineraries.
“Zimbabwean private business operators expressed satisfaction especially with their engagement with UK tour operators. They’ve signed a number of deals but of course we’re still to get the feedback in terms of the business generated,” ZTA’s head of corporate affairs Sugah Chagonda said at the close of the global expo.