THE Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) has acknowledged that its high-profile campaign marketing the country to China has failed, suggesting the tourism ma
rketing crusade had targeted only a small segment of the potential Chinese market.
Chief executive Karikoga Kaseke said he had been “shocked” to realise that key stakeholders in China had no idea about the tourist attractions available in the country.
“I was shocked,” Kaseke said in an interview soon after returning from a tourism exhibition in the Chinese capital Beijing.
“Let’s not fool ourselves, Zimbabwe is virtually unknown in China. We have to do a lot of work,” Kaseke said.
He suggested that the campaign targeting Chinese tourists had failed primarily because of undercapitalisation and failure by the authority to spread its campaign across all regions of the communist country.
The ZTA’s campaigns had concentrated on the small Beijing market and ignored other regions in the world’s fastest-growing economy.
“The Chinese market has better knowledge of other African countries than Zimbabwe. We are losing potential tourists because when marketing, they (other countries) also include the Victoria Falls (as part of their marketing packages),” Kaseke said.
“Zimbabwe must now start investing in destination awareness. However, we have been researching (and) some of our researchers are in China learning the characteristics of that market,” said Kaseke.
Most buyers and travel agents in China were still not aware of Zimbabwe’s attractions despite popular official perception that the marketing programmes launched to attract tourists from China had been comprehensive.
Kaseke, who was part of a delegation of tourism sector players who last week attended the China International Travel Mart (CIT) in Beijing, said there was scant knowledge of Zimbabwe’s tourist attractions even among travel agents.
Zimbabwe, isolated by the West for alleged human rights violations, had adopted a “Look East” policy forcing the tourism sector to diversify its marketing campaign and capture the Asian market following travel warnings by major European and the American source markets against visiting the country.
Zimbabwe had lost a significant share of its tourism market as a result, and this has provided a major boost to neighbouring countries like Zambia and South Africa who have seen growth in tourist traffic due to the country’s woes.
South Africa has included the Victoria Falls as part of its tourism package, resulting in visitors to the world’s seventh wonder coming into the country for brief periods and spending less in the country as a result.
Zambia, which shares the Victoria Falls with Zimbabwe but provides a less scenic view than that from the Zimbabwe side, has seen its tourist numbers increase significantly over the last five years.
Traditional Western markets led by the United Kingdom have slammed their doors on Zimbabwe since 2000 citing the high risks posed by farm invaders and an unstable political terrain.
Government funded about 80% of Air Zimbabwe’s first flights to China introduced in 2004 as part of the campaign to woo tourists from the Asian market.
China accorded Zimbabwe the Approved Destination Status (ADS) in 2003, giving its assent for Chinese nationals to visit Zimbabwe.
Kaseke said a lot still needed to be done to increase the country’s visibility among potential Chinese visitors.
He said they wanted the country to have at least 2 000 Chinese tourists arrivals per week under a fresh campaign likely to be undertaken following his visit to China.
Air Zimbabwe currently flies about 100 Chinese visitors into the country weekly.
Zimbabwe suffered a 72% slide in Chinese tourist arrivals in 2005 from 26 000 in 2004 to 7 100 in 2005, but statistics for the first nine months of 2006 have indicated a rebound.
The major barrier the Chinese tourists face in Zimbabwe and other African countries has been the use of the English language by local guides and the absence of Chinese cuisine in local hotels.