IT IS without doubt that tourists visiting Zimbabwe face a very hostile tax regime and a plethora of regulatory payments. The myriad payments by both the tourist and the operator are an albatross to the country’s strategic intention of being a low cost destination. The finance ministry and its appendage, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, exhibit a lack of seriousness, irrationality, ignorance and arrogance by continuing a self-defeating hostile tax regiment in one of the few remaining sectors that still have potential for growth and employment generation.
It is particularly confounding and confusing that despite evidence of the dwindling economic cake the current taxation “strategy” is still geared towards increasing the tax burden instead of provision of tax incentives to the few sectors that still have strategic, comparative and competitive advantages like tourism. I am for tax cuts in any shape, form or fashion and I believe tax strategy is a serious consideration for visitors and investors alike. Zimbabwe’s tourism sector woes however, go beyond the tax impediments that the affable Hon Walter Mzembi would like us to believe. The core of the challenge is the impaired Brand Zimbabwe and lack of an idea diffusion strategy.
Brand Zimbabwe is associated with undemocratic tendencies, land and industry seizures, violence, corruption, bad governance, hostile business environment, infrastructure decay, policy inconsistences, grinding poverty and unrelenting shortages of water and electricity. Even if that assessment of brand Zimbabwe is incorrect it’s unfortunate that that is the message which, somehow, is predominant in the mind of global investors and visitors alike with the exception to a few resident in some of our “all-weather friends” like Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and some countries in Africa.
The negative Zimbabwe message has been repeated long enough that it has soiled and tainted Brand Zimbabwe. Anything repeated so often almost becomes true especially considered with the fact that a significant number of local and international media have acted in unison for over 15 years in pushing the soiled brand. At its present level of impairment, brand Zimbabwe is not one that will attract significant visitors and investment and it’s also not a brand that can reasonably compete with other peer country brands. The country has to come up with an alternative, engaging and disruptive message for any significant interest to be generated on Zimbabwe tourism and investment. Without positive conversations around Zimbabwe the tourism economy will be in doldrums for a very long time to come.Advertisement
Consumers of tourism products don’t care about Zimbabwe or any other destination at all; they just don’t care. Part of the reason is that they’ve got way more choices than they used to, and way less time. And in a world where consumers have too many choices and too little time, the obvious thing to do is just ignore stuff. The consumer has choice of, amongst other things, wildlife, buildings, structures, lakes, beaches, arts and culture centres to visit. The consumer has a myriad of countries to visit and plenty more parts of any country to visit. The consumer has myriad platforms to obtain ideas to make the choices. So without positive idea diffusion on the myriad platforms, forget bumper attention for Zimbabwe.
The success of our tourism, like the success of almost everything is not always about what the tourism product is like, or where the product is located; it’s more about whether we can you get our brand message to spread in the target market. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a book, coffee shop, intellectual idea, an FMCG or tourism, its only brands that have been successful in information diffusion that get to be noticed and become successful. For Zimbabwe, tourism will get traction and obtain real growth when the Ministry and its appendage the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority figure out, then design and implement a strategy to spread the idea of Zimbabwe as a destination of choice.
We are living in a century of idea diffusion and those people who can spread ideas, regardless of what those ideas are, win. Unfortunately for Zimbabwe tourism in a world were TV and print media complex is broken, the marketing of tourism and brand Zimbabwe at conferences, meetings and exhibitions will not generate positive results. I don’t think that’s a strategy the country wants use any more. We just have to learn to market to digital natives and early digital immigrants. The digital natives do not consult TV, print media, industrial players, exhibitors or their governments when they make a decision to travel. They consult Google.
If we could only get onto the homepage of Google, If we could figure out how to have millions of followers on our twitter, if we can only figure out how to attract the attention of the middle class across the globe on LinkedIn. If only figure out how we can get promoted through digital media and if only we can touch people in a way they weren’t expecting, in a way they didn’t necessarily want, with an ad, over and over and over again until they get to love brand Zimbabwe then we can record success. It all depends on a new disruptive, innovative and remarkable message the tourism ministry must design. Having a Facebook, twitter and LinkedIn account is not synonymous with a digital strategy. Instead, the volume of conversations on those platforms will heavily depend on robust digital strategy.
It’s only remarkable messages that can start conversations around Zimbabwe. Without awe messages around our brand we have no digital marketing strategy. Zimbabwe needs to design and implement a robust digital and social marketing strategy for it to win on a strategy platform. A Ted speaker had this to say: “The thing that’s going to decide what gets talked about, what gets done, what gets changed, what gets purchased, what gets built, is: is it remarkable? And ‘remarkable’ is a really cool word because we think it just means neat, but it also means — worth making a remark about. And that is the essence of where idea diffusion is going.”
Now let’s try to imagine a commercial that will get a person into a plane and visit Zimbabwe; that message in the commercial should be as remarkable as the messenger. In a world where the electronic and print media is broken, brand ambassadors that resonate with the target segment are as important as designing a message. Brand ambassadors are often the determinants of what brand messages get spread and which ones don’t. No doubt, beauties like Miss Tourism Zimbabwe can be ambassadors, but I have serious doubt on their efficacy to market brand Zimbabwe. These beauties have no capacity to disrupt world thinking because almost every country has its own national pageant.
An ambassador must be one that will have millions of followers’ worldwide in the right market segment. Without brand ambassadors in the likes of Palladi Sharda, David Beckham, Didier Drogba, Agneta Sjodin, and the Charlize Therons of this world, our message will take time to reach the world because our brand is at a very advanced level of decay such that it needs new bankable ambassadors. As an example David Beckham has a reach of more than 51 million on his Facebook account and his tweet on Great Zimbabwe for instance would have the same following. The use of stars is not something new, we can learn from airlines like Turkish Airlines.
The Zimbabwe Tourism business model must also emphasis on strategic partners’ idea diffusion. To get global attention the country needs to attract global brands as business model canvass strategic partners. These key partners include, but are not limited to, areas of car rentals, airlines, hotels, restaurants and other service providers. Whilst the country already has international brands in the sector, attracting a few more to have presence in Zimbabwe would drive a remarkable message that disrupts world thinking. As an example, the setting up of a Hilton Hotel or McDonalds is a strategy soothsayer to other investors and visitors alike.
Marketing to digital natives and early digital immigrants ensures a brand reaches a target of people who care enough about our brand to follow the webpage or Twitter or Facebook and then tell their friends. An ad with a remarkable message on the TV or radio will generate conversations but only on the social and digital platforms. There are quick rules I would suggest:
Zimbabwe Tourism must have a remarkable message for anyone to notice Zimbabwe. A remarkable message is not necessarily a great message but something out of the ordinary. I can be something no one has ever said about brand Zimbabwe.
The riskiest thing to do is to rely on the TV and radio complex. It’s most likely no one is caring. Even if people are caring for you on TV and radio still, the follow up conversations are almost always done on social and digital platforms.
The safest thing to do now is to market to the fringes because that’s where the people really care. Very good is always average and is boring. When you are marketing a tourism destination and it’s very good, no one will notice. People only notice something different and something out of the ordinary. Without something out of the ordinary, we simply have no remarkable message.
Brand Zimbabwe is damaged and soiled. We need to invest in Brand Zimbabwe. Investing in a new message is never to correct misconceptions because no one really cares about that. It’s about coming up with a remarkable message.
To get noticed the country needs brand ambassadors that get noticed and people care about in target markets.
Brian Sedze is a Strategy and Innovation author and consultant. He is the President of Free Enterprise Initiative and Chairman of Africa Innovation Hub. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org