THIS week Tourism minister Walter Mzembi was on a trip courting Brazil to set base in Zimbabwe for 2010.
Quite noble considering Brazil is one of the premier teams and will not only feature in the 2010 Fifa World Cup but also in the Confederations Cup next month. There are huge financial rewards for South Africaâ€™s neighbours if they can position themselves to reap benefits from these tournaments.
Mzembi said: â€œIf it can happen that they (the Brazilian team) come and camp in Zimbabwe, together with their contingent, that would be a boost for tourism.â€ The state coffers could use the forex and the media attention would be a chance for Zimbabwe to showcase itself as a safe destination.
While the marketing junket to Brazil may be an honourable intention, the ministerâ€™s sweet words and coaxing alone are not enough. There are fundamentals that need to be made right if tourists and soccer fans are to set foot in Zimbabwe come 2010. The real work is at home.
Efforts to get service delivery back on track are taking too long and may not bear fruit in time for 2010. While the 10 million euro grant extended by Germany may go some way in purifying water, there has to be a long-term plan to put to an end to the water woes. Harareâ€™s proximity to Johannesburg means itâ€™s only about 90 minutes by air â€” but upon landing, the dilemma of potholes that seem only to increase in width and depth confronts visitors.
The politics of outstanding issues, disagreements and haggling that continues to dog the new government also do not augur well for image cosmetics; it makes Zimbabwe stand out like a sore thumb in the region. If the violence of the last elections is anything to go by, then there is trouble on the horizon.
Bad news travels fast and it stays long in peopleâ€™s minds. Lawlessness must not be allowed to reign in any sector of the society, including the media, but the recent arrest of Independent editor Vincent Kahiya, news editor Constantine Chimakure, human rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama, and the re-arrest of civil society worker Jestina Mukoko and 17 other MDC activists is bad news.
Admissions by the Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono that he dipped his hands into other peopleâ€™s cookie jars have been well publicised abroad and in neighbouring countries. The credit crunch is not a joke.
Money is scarce out there. Ask Finance minister Tendai Biti what he experienced with his begging bowl in Europe and the United States. Fans and their teams need to know that their precious pennies for living expenses will be secure if they transfer them to Zimbabwe. They canâ€™t take chances with money.
In attracting takers, the brand-building concept of product associations must apply. Who does Zimbabwe associate with? Does getting into bed and massaging the egos of human rights abusers, in particular North Korea, align well with the envisioned customer experience?
The reported continuation of land invasions does not promote the Zimbabwe brand. Property violations based on racial lines raise questions for visitors of other races. Atop a tourists list is safety. That needs to be guaranteed with no question marks.
South Africa has started the process to legalise the oldest profession, prostitution. The three main reasons being the safety of sex workers who protest harassment and rape at the hands of police officers. Second, the state also wants a share, in the form of taxes, from that multi-million dollar industry. And lastly, to accommodate and ensure the safety of fans who will venture out for that service during their stay come 2010.
Zimbabwe, a more conservative society, may not necessarily need to go the same route, but visitors will ask questions such as how will they be treated on that side of the border. What about bisexual and gay people? Are they welcome? Whatâ€™s the plan? These may be uncomfortable questions but are issues that affect the brand and need addressing.
Also, attributed to the minister were disturbing comments that Zimbabwe is targeting Brazil because it is the â€œbest womanâ€. He was further quoted by media as having said:Â â€œWe have managed to position our case very very well. If you are looking for the most beautiful woman in the village, even if she says â€˜noâ€™ to your overturesâ€¦ you will eventually get a woman next to her in terms of beautyâ€¦â€
Is he serious? There is increasingly little approval the world over for comments that seek to commodify women. His comment is an extremely poor example that will not sit well with those working to advance the rights of women so that they are viewed for their fair contribution to societies, not just as objects of beauty. And women make up a sizeable number of fans that he is begging to put up in Zimbabwe in 2010.
Soccer fans and teams need concrete reasons to convince them that Zimbabwe will be the best brand and place to stay. Tourism is not a product free of issues of service delivery, safety and the rule of law.
If a customer does not believe in a brand promise, then itâ€™s marketing will be useless. If the issues affecting the Zimbabwe brand are not addressed in time for 2010, Mzembiâ€™s energy will be wasted.
lMawarire is a senior sub-editor at the M&G in South Africa.
BY TELDAH MAWARIRE