Urgent need for tourism turn-around

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Last week the World Economic Forum (WEF) accorded Zimbabwe a rating of 118 out of 140 countries, in assessing the country’s attractiveness and competitiveness in the fields of travel and tourism.

Column by Eric Bloch

WEF says Zimbabwe is a victim of negative perception on the part of potential tourists, who have concerns for their safety and security– critical factors that influence tourists’ choices of destinations.

On the issue of safety and security, Zimbabwe attained a rating of 120, out of the assessed 140 countries.

At any time, such adverse tourist perspectives are very negative, for tourism is a major factor in the development and growth of Zimbabwe’s economy, especially given that in August when the country (together with Zambia) will be hosting the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly.

The poor rating also runs counter to a recent forecast by the Minister of Tourism, Walter Mzembi, that Zimbabwe will be the second fastest growing travel and tourism economy in the world, only China attaining even greater growth.

The Minister projected that over the period 2010 to 2020 Zimbabwe will attain an average annual growth rate of 8,7%.

It is indisputable Zimbabwe has key resources to attain, and even exceed, the minister’s forecast, and a markedly higher international rating as a desirable tourist destination.

Its tourism attractions are so considerable and extensive that space does not permit listing all of them in this column, but they include the spectacular Victoria Falls, and the innumerable enjoyable activities in their proximity, some of the finest wild life game reserves and parks in Africa, the Matopos Hills, Great Zimbabwe, Khami and other ruins, the immense beauty of Chimanimani, Vumba and Nyanga, Lake Kariba (and especially its sunsets, and its wildlife viewing opportunities), fine Natural History Museum situated in Bulawayo, the National Gallery in Harare and Bulawayo, traditional tribal dancing, diverse arts and crafts as well as numerous hotels, lodges, caravan parks and camping grounds.

With all this to offer, it is difficult to think why Zimbabwe has such a negative international tourism rating. The general tendancy is to attribute the inadequacy of Zimbabwean tourism patronage to the economic recession in the United States in 2008, and beyond, and the subsequent recession in most of the European Union (EU).

It cannot be denied those recessions impacted severely and adversely on the extent of international tourism, but that does not explain why Zimbabwe is rated so poorly in tourism surveys undertaken during, and post, the recessions.

The reality is that, for diverse reasons, many who enjoy tourism are deeply concerned with the state of Zimbabwe as a tourism destination. These concerns are many, including:

Perceptions that Zimbabwe is not a safe tourist destination.Those perceptions are mainly founded on the prolonged political instability prevailing in the country for many years, the frequency of violence in rural areas (more often than not politically driven), the perceived absence of substantive efforts by government and the police to contain such violence and to ensure law and order;

The excessive numbers of police roadblocks on national highways, necessitating frustrating delays for the tourists who are recurrently subjected to demands for production of licences, fire extinguishers, and red triangles.

Virtually no tourist objects to such enforced stops and examinations, but they become resentful when this is repeated often. The resentment of the tourists is intensified when, all too often, the “inquisitions” are accompanied by demands for bribes;

Prolonged delays at Border Posts while the tourists await slow processing of their entry into or departure from Zimbabwe, coupled with endless demands from touts, and beggars can surely not be conducive to tourism.

Moreover, they often have considerable delays when visa-issuing officials refuse visa fees in certain currencies (such as the British Pound), despite such currencies being included in Zimbabwe’s multi-currency monetary system;

The ongoing, limited flights of the beleaguered Air Zimbabwe compounded by many cancellations or delays, provoking deep seated concerns of many tourists that miss onward flight connections;

Inadequate service delivery by Zimbabwean parastatals, and especially so in respect of energy and water supplies severely impair the expectations and needs of potential tourists.

Endless harassment of tourists by beggars desperately seeking donations and unceasingly badgering the tourists with appeals for money;

Excessively, and exaggeratedly, negative international media coverage of Zimbabwe’s circumstances, in general, and of the prolonged, adverse political as well as law and order circumstances, further colouring perceptions of tourists on the desirability of Zimbabwe as a destination;

The recurrent virulent and confrontational diatribes among of Zimbabwe’s political hierarchy against the international community, rendering potential tourists fearful of unjust harassment should they visit Zimbabwe;

These are but some of the factors which prevent Zimbabwe from enjoying the considerable benefits that could flow from the potentially massive tourist arrivals.

While not all of the impediments to substantial tourism growth can be fully addressed by government, most of them could be effectively resolved, if only authorities had a firm resolve to recognise, and eliminate, these problems. If government would seriously do so, Zimbabwe would enjoy a tourism turnaround even greater than forecast by Mzembi, and that would be a major stimulant to the economy.

 

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