ZIMBABWE may require 20 years to repair its battered image to attract tourists, Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara has said.
Speaking at a tourism conference in Harare on Wednesday, Mutambara proposed measures to reverse the countryâ€™s bad-boy image that has over the years led to a sharp decline in tourist arrivals.
He challenged citizens and public figures to align with what he termed the national aspiration in the tourism sector.
â€œThe starting point of Zimbabwe is to remove those sanctions that you are imposing among yourselves,â€ Mutambara said in a powerpoint presentation at the conference.
He said Zimbabweâ€™s image had been blighted by farm invasions, human rights violations and the cholera epidemic.
â€œWe want to rebrand Zimbabwe, but what are we known for?â€ asked Mutambara. â€œHow are we perceived by the rest of the world?
â€œWe are known for violence, farm invasions, disregard for the rule of law, electoral fraud, cholera, an unheard of rocket-propelled inflation, gigantic corruption and mafia-style abductions and kidnappings of journalists, human rights activists and anyone seeking democratic space,â€ said Mutambara.
He added that stakeholders should take responsibility for the downward trend in tourism adding that they should â€œremove internally imposed sanctionsâ€ among themselves.
Â â€œYou (Karikoga) Kaseke (Zimbabwe Tourism Authority chief), (Information Communication Technology minister Nelson) Chamisa or (President Robert) Mugabe, what are you known for?â€ asked Mutambara. â€œIs your brand equity aligned to the national aspiration? We must make sure that our personal equity is aligned with the national aspirationsâ€¦This is a long journey â€“â€“ a 20-year journey that starts today. A brand canâ€™t be built overnight,â€ he said.
He proposed that the tourism sector should identify â€œtriggersâ€ that are sellable to the international market, citing Coca Cola and Mercedes Benz as reputable companies that have established solid brands.
The deputy prime minister said the inclusive government would consider legalising the establishment of a council tasked with rebranding Zimbabweâ€™s image in line with the new administration.
â€œWe need to change the constitution to include the Zimbabwe International Marketing Council,â€ Mutambara said. â€œWe must liberalise the media laws and get BBC, CNN back to Harare. We are the government and we are going to do thatâ€¦the more the merrier. We of course want to constructively engage our own media to make them drive the national agenda.â€
Reading a written speech at the same conference, Vice-President Joice Mujuru demanded an end to politically motivated violence.
Zimbabwe is positioned at number 33 world-over with regards to tourist attractions, but is ranked number 117 in terms of tourist arrivals.
â€œTo the international community, I ask you to give the inclusive government a chance as this is in the best interest of the nation and people of Zimbabwe,â€ she said. â€œWe commit ourselves, as government, to listen to those who have concerns and communicate with us through appropriate channels, but we also plead with the world to listen to our inclusive voice.â€ Â
Chamisa criticised the current government website for being outdated, unattractive and lacking interactivity with visitors.
â€œYour first tourist attraction is your national websiteâ€, Chamisa said.
He said the â€œyesteryear modeâ€ government website â€œmilitatesâ€ against what he termed the national brand.
â€œTourism minister Walter Mzembi,â€ Chamisa proposed â€œshould engage Google (on the issue of the government website having precedence over tourism websites) so that we can rebrand our tourism.
â€œSince 2004 we have had 300 000 visits to the government website compared to 21 million that visited the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority website.â€
Chamisa cited Kenya and South Africa as having website interfaces that promote tourism rather than the government set up.
â€œWe also have a situation where a SIM card is more expensive than airtime. That is ridiculous.â€ he added.
Zimbabwe Council of Tourism president and panellist at the inaugural tourism stakeholdersâ€™ conference, Emmanuel Fundira, blamed deteriorating infrastructure, a sharp decline in agricultural productivity, disregard for property rights and repressive media laws for battering the countryâ€™s image.
â€œWhat is important is that tourism is the face of Zimbabwe. We should interrogate ourselves without fear of favour. For as long as we donâ€™t introspect, we will not go anywhere,â€ Fundira said.
Last year tourism recorded a 22% annual decline despite having posted 11% growth during the first quarter of the year.
BY BERNARD MPOFU