Tomorrow heralds the commencement of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly, being co-hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia at the world-renowned, magnificent Victoria Falls.The conference can yield immense future beneficiation to Zimbabwean and Zambian tourism as well as the economies of the two countries, resulting in concomitant benefits to many of the populace of both countries.
Report by Eric Bloch
However, key to realising the benefits is that the delegates attending (who come from nearly 150 countries throughout the world) must be accorded maximum attention to their needs, and that they enjoy their short sojourn in the two countries.
Facilitating that enjoyment, and maximising the creation of highly favourable perspectives of the considerable world-class tourism opportunities that both countries have to offer is possible in many ways. However, important issues that must be considered include:
- That any and all representatives of the host countries’ governments (be they of presidential, ministerial or other governmental roles) must in all their addresses to the gathering, and in all dialogue with delegates, under no circumstances use the event as a political platform. Instead, they must focus on the assured security for tourists and for investors in the tourism sector. They should also emphasise constructive measures to ensure the consistent and ready availability of all the tourists’ needs.
- All delegates and persons accompanying them into Zimbabwe and Zambia must be cordially and efficiently cleared by customs and immigration officials, and be handled well by all airport personnel. Prolonged delays in gaining entry or exit from the countries severely colours the judgments and impressions of the visitors to a country and discredit it.
- That while reasonable traffic controls, including enforcing speed limits are very necessary, they must not be excessive. By way of example, the delegates will find it untenable, and unacceptable, if on a journey of approximately four hundred kilometers from Victoria Falls they are halted at least eight times by traffic police for the inspection of vehicles. The disillusionment of the visitors will be even more intensified if any of the traffic officers seek to solicit bribes from them.
- That public and private sector suppliers of utilities and services, including energy, telecommunications, transport and the like, must ensure timeous and reliable ongoing availability of such utilities and services.
- That police in both countries must contain crimes against the visitors. Because of the magnitude of poverty in the region, many who were previously law-abiding citizens have increasingly turned to crime, and tourists are perceived as ready targets for pickpockets, handbag-snatchers and carjackers. Intensified police presence and alertness to minimise such crimes being perpetrated is essential if those attending the UNWTO conference are not to be demotivated from recommending Zimbabwe and Zambia as desirable tourist destinations.
- In like manner, that police and local authorities must do their utmost to constrain and contain endless accosting of the visitors by beggars. While because of Zimbabwe’s very negative economic circumstances, many have resorted to begging in order to survive, recurrent urgings for monetary gifts by innumerable beggars (some of whom pretend to be physically disabled), will inevitably alienate the visitors and negate any and all good impressions they may have formed as to Zimbabwe being a desirable tourist destination.
- That Zimbabweans identify to the delegates that, as spectacular world-renowned, awesome and magnificent as Victoria Falls is, and justly a World Heritage site, the country has many more spectacular and unique tourist destinations, including the finest wildlife reserves on the African continent. There is also the immense mystique of Great Zimbabwe, Khami Ruins, and the overwhelming beauty of Chimanimani, Bvumba and Nyanga. Other offerings include Mana Pools, Lake Kariba and much more. Zimbabwe also has interesting museums in Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare and Harare as well as art galleries, ethnic exhibitions and performances, plus an almost endless list of other outstanding attractions.
- Reinforcing the identification and promotion of the enormous range of tourism opportunities. That tourism authorities, tourist operators, and publicity associations ensure very extensive distribution of publicity and promotional materials (either at the conference and at the diverse tourism facilities, or by subsequent distribution thereof to the conference attendees). Concurrently, they should ensure that their websites are up-to-date and comprehensive, and that they make delegates aware of such websites.
- The print and visual media also have a major role to play in enhancing perceptions of Zimbabwe as a highly-preferred tourist destination. In particular, they must avoid tainting the country’s image by publication of highly confrontational and negative political issues, which would convey impressions of political instability and hence of potential unrest.
- That most Zimbabwean and Zambian hotels, lodges, and other tourist accommodation facilities maintain exceptionally high standards, in line with with up-market establishments elsewhere. Nevertheless, throughout the UNWTO conference and thereafter they must strive intensively to maximise the quality of facilities, services and attentiveness to the needs and wishes of the conference attendees.
If all of these actions are assiduously and determinedly pursued, the conference host countries will realise very substantial ongoing benefits, ensuring considerable escalation in the recently achieved growth in tourist arrivals, and in the tourism sector’s contribution to the host countries’ economies.