HomeBusiness DigestCresta column - Courageous leaders required in tourism

Cresta column – Courageous leaders required in tourism

By Francis Ngwenya

AS key players in Zimbabwe put together a Tourism Master Plan, one needs to take a step back and look from a bird’s eye view of the global tourism industry.

ONT face=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>The first step should always be to go back into history so that we can look at where we came from and hopefully decide where we want to go.

The story of Thomas Cook, one of the world tourism pioneers, comes to mind. We could certainly do with a few brave entrepreneurs and visionaries like him today. Thomas Cook put together what is known as the world’s first “package tour” on July 5 1841, by taking 500 persons on a rail journey and then later organising the world’s first European tour for British tourists in 1855 which went to Paris via Brussels, Cologne, Heidelberg, Baden-Baden, Strasbourg and back to London.

Thomas Cook had no tourist board or guiding master policy and faced greater challenges than the ones Zimbabwe faces today, and one wonders what suggestions he would give the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) on the way forward. Times have changed one would say and more change is still to come. Things will never be the same again. The Internet, despite all the negatives, can produce on average for an international hotel up to 30% of hotel bookings of which most have a lead period of less than two weeks and yet most players still want to focus on the old glossy brochure distributed by tour operators and travel agents, a process that has a cycle of no less than one year.

As one reads the tourism headlines in the region, it is interesting to note how we see the future. Kenya who are still suffering the effects of terrorism from the Nairobi and Mombassa attacks plan to spend no less than 560 million shillings on television adverts in Europe with the hope their target market will regain confidence in the destination as they promise visitors improved security. Earlier efforts by Kenya in Asia are already paying off with reports that over 50% of guests in the Maasai Mara Game Park were from Asia.

According to statistics from the ZTA, Zimbabwe has seen arrivals from Asia increase from 29 075 in 2002 to 40 791 in the year 2003.

The Zambia National Tourist Board has indicated that arrivals into Livingstone have never been better due to the continued problems in Zimbabwe. This has also come about through a number of campaigns by some hotels in Livigstone, which had the catch line “Victoria Falls – visit the Zambian side it’s safer”. This negative publicity by a direct competitor who is also a good friend can be most damaging and needs to be dealt with firmly through clear communication to the market.

Having had the opportunity to interact with other captains of the young hotel industry in Zambia, I can confirm that this strategy is not a shared one, especially for those with very clear long-term views which will be realised when the Sadc bloc becomes more open and unified.

Another country benefiting from the woes of others is Kuwait, which recorded the world’s highest occupancy rates for the year 2003. According to Deloitte hotel benchmark survey, the reason for the high occupancy of 85% on average for the year is a direct result of the war and the continuing crisis in Iraq. Kuwait City provides a staging post for businessmen and a transit point for military personnel.

In this great kaleidoscope, there is a fear that since the landscape is constantly changing and plans, strategies and tactics have to change and move at such a fast pace, one hopes that the tourism master plan will have such flexibility.

We have to take into consideration the interests of other stakeholders and make trade-offs when required. Should we open the airways for mass tourism or should we focus on quality tourism, controlling the volumes using price and product offering? This is a relevant topic when one takes into account the fact that the environment can only take a limited number of visitors before they start to cause damage.

The National Parks will have to state scientifically the maximum number of visitors the Victoria Falls can take a day and those in favour of volume tourism will want to stand by this number. On the other hand, the number will most likely be too high for our five star visitors who will want to enjoy the water falls as David Livingstone did when he was kindly taken and shown Mosi-o-tunya and advised that it meant “the smoke that thunders”. In response, he named the falls after his Queen Victoria and what great marketing this was for the tourist destination throughout the empire.

The other things to review will include the funding of ZTA efforts. Where should this funding come from and how much of it do we need and where? No less than US$20 million was spent marketing South Africa as a destination world-wide, which is not a bad number for ZTA to work around as a benchmark for annual marketing.

Zimbabwean talent, resilience and determination is much greater than the challenges that we face and ZTA can do a much better job, given the resources, without having to spend all their efforts trying to convince all the powers that be that the funds will be well spent.

The uncertainties of global tourism are a reality and so are the opportunities. A perfect plan in such an industry serves only as a guide and must not be mandatory. Real value will come when all stakeholders understand the plan and what part they play in the full picture.

While this plan is being put together, we see examples of great entrepreneurs with as much determination and vision as had Thomas Cook in the early 1800s. These exemplary elements do not need to have a master plan before they can start to get the job done, nor do they spend half of their energy cursing the darkness instead of lighting a candle – they just do it.

* Cresta Hospitality Zimbabwe operations director, Francis Ngwenya, compiled this article. To send feedback email marketing@cresta.co.zw

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