After Zimbabwe won the bid to co-host the 20th session of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation general assembly with Zambia in October 2011, there was a lot of excitement on the opportunity for the country to rebrand itself and grow tourist arrivals as well as attract foreign direct investment.
Soon after the event, in August 2013, Tourism minister Walter Mzembi said the event had given immense benefits to the nation and was expected to drive international arrivals going forward.
However, numbers on the ground suggest otherwise. The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) reported a mere 2% growth in tourism arrivals for 2013 largely driven by inland tourists from across Africa.
The year saw a hive of activity as the country completed its referendum and drafting of a new constitution ahead of elections which were held at the end of July.
The country has been unable to realise full potential of its tourism due to its negative image after an often bloody land reform of 2000 and a series of disputed elections.
Lack of policy consistency and controversial indigenisation laws have also compounded the country’s situation as an attractive investment destination. International Growth Centre country director Richard Newfarmer recently says Zimbabwe has been unable to grow tourist arrivals and earnings due to a poor policies in the service industry.
He said policies in Zimbabwe’s services sector were highly restrictive to new players and fresh capital inflow.
“Zimbabwe’s tourism assets are ranked number 22 in the world but it is not doing well. The service industry has real potential in landlocked countries but the question is how to unlock this potential,” he told a World Bank Zimbabwe seminar on trade and competitiveness.
Analysts say investment in tourism will enable the country to improve its returns that had deteriorated over a decade of economic stagnation spanning between 1998 and 2008.
Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality secretary Florence Nhekairo said there was need for improving standards to international expectations and at the same time reach previous levels.
“You need the right standards for a tourist to spend as much time in terms of days as they used to do long back,” she recently said at a Zimbabwe Tourism Authority workshop familiarisation for the parliamentarians recently.
Environment, Water, Tourism and Hospitality Industry parliament portfolio committee chairperson Anastacia Ndlovu said there was need for amendments to existing legislation with a view to give more flexibility to laws affecting tourism.
“We are going to look at the uni-visa system. This means we should look at our current visa regime versus other case studies,” she said.
Experts say Zimbabwe needs fresh strategies to attract and grow international tourist arrivals.
Recently, the African Development Bank (AfDB) said government must work towards attracting more international arrivals, as these tourists tend to be higher spenders compared to regional tourists.
According to information from ZTA, tourists from Asia spend an average of US$1 226 per trip while their counterparts from Mainland Africa spend an average of US$250 on a visit averaging between 1,5 and 2 nights.
“Marketing packages targeting these international markets can be developed,” said AfDB.
Ireland based Zimbabwean brand consultant Mic Chikanda said the Zimbabwean government, as a major stakeholder in the tourism sector, should open air routes and encourage air traffic between Zimbabwe and major destinations like major European cities.
“We need to create a brand strategy that will place a distinction from the parent brand with its own unique values. We also have to host large events to generate awareness,” said Chikanda who is also studying for a PhD in Service Design and Innovation in Tourism.
Chikanda said there was need to improve relations between government and foreign investors as part of a broader initiative that should promote the destination as a crime free zone while exploiting competitors’ weaknesses that have higher crime rates.
“A reliable information technology drive should be fast tracked to improve the banking sector and the tourism sector for online transactions. Introducing a policy that requires every tour operator to have online presence is another option,” he said.
His argument for online presence, he said, was premised on the need for before and after visit interaction platform.
Last month, ZTA CEO Karikoga Kaseke said Zimbabwe reported a 2% surge in tourist arrivals to 1,83 million from 1,79 million in 2012.
According to ZTA figures, receipts grew 13,62% to US$851 million from US$749 million the previous comparative period.
Of the arrivals, 86% are low value tourists from mainland Africa at 1 570 799 with over 33% of them transit tourists.
At the time, Kaseke said despite the growth in arrivals, numbers remained well below 1999 peak levels of tourism 2,25 million arrivals.
He said arrivals are still 19% below 1999 levels mainly driven by a 66% drop in tourist from Europe, 53% slump on arrivals from the Americas and a 65% decline in arrivals from Oceania.
However, numbers from mainland Africa went up 5% over the period while Asia and the Middle East recorded a 58% growth.