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Image – fact and reality

By Shingi Munyeza

OVER the past four years most of the tourism communication had to refer to “bad publicity and poor national image”.

f”>At some point it sounded like a broken record and personally I stopped referring to the notion of “negative publicity”, because it offered a crutch, which validated a resigned attitude in all of us.

As the government-led land reform took centre-stage in 2000 in the manner that it did, we in the tourism industry sought to address the resultant negative image. We formed the short-lived Tourism Recovery Task Force and we asked President Robert Mugabe to launch it at the Harare International Conference Centre. This was the last we were to hear of the Tourism Recovery Task Force because our objectives in the private sector were different from government.

In the month’s that followed we found ourselves in a blame war between government and private sector. We didn’t learn quickly that no one wins in a blame war, actually the situation deteriorates. Tourism operations began to close down, retrench, bankrupt and making unprecedented losses.

Meanwhile the rest of the world started worrying about safety concerns, which were not the reality in our resort areas. This further deteriorated into a moral objection. We later learnt that dismissing a moral objection is more difficult than dealing with a safety concern.

In about 2002, the private sector realized that if we did not positively engage government, our fortunes in tourism would be lost forever. We also realized that the earlier we understand government’s objectives we would continue to waste resources. This marked the end of the blame war and the responsibility attitude settled in. We began to see both government and the private sector demonstrating responsibility for what was going on in tourism and the national image.

Hate messages from shareholders to our traditional source markets began to reduce and more condor prevailed between government and the private sector. This allowed the private sector to put their concerns through to government in a spirit that would bring positive response. As a result, governmentand the private sector are working on a National Tourism Policy, which will allow the tourism sector to positively engage other stakeholders.

For example it is hoped that once the tourism policy is finalized it will enable the tourism sector to engage institutions such as the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, Department of Immigration, Air Zimbabwe, ZRP and many others to ensure we all worked together in bringing about an enabling environment for tourism. Only in the recent past we have had conflicting objectives with some of these stakeholders thereby threatening the tourism sector with collapse.

Some positive outcome has been the establishment of a tourism police unit in Victoria Falls, which will soon spread to other centres.

When all stakeholders begin to pull towards the same goals and objectives a positive image is then created at home among the stakeholders. This is then easier for the tourism industry to communicate a positive message to our source markets.

Therefore image is about a sense of national pride, which comes from personal pride of being a true Zimbabwean. Image is positively influenced by allowing divergent views to prevail in an environment of mutual respect. A positive image is sustained by being adversaries rather than enemies. A positive image is enforced when colour, creed, race, origin or background does not take centre stage.

Currently, we are a wounded and divided nation and unfortunately this is what gets to our source markets. A message of hope and love need to start coming out of all Zimbabweans. No visitor wants to visit people who are considered hostile to each other. We have had maximum publicity as a nation and now is the time to turn this publicity to our advantage.

Confidence building starts by admitting to our shortcomings, accepting our differences, dealing with reality and coming up with common goals and values. I believe we need to develop a critical mass of committed nationalists, who have a national agenda.

As the old saying goes – ”A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step”. We should start by working on the things that we agree on and then deal with areas of disagreement. Eventually we should know that it is the drop that fills the ocean. No one is insignificant.

* Shingi Munyeza is president of the Zimbabwe Council for Tourism (ZCT) and chief executive officer of the Zimsun Leisure group.

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