Religious tourism to boost earnings

EARLIER this month, Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi announced his dream for Zimbabwe to host the Fifa world cup in 2034 helped by the creation of a positive perception and the development of major infrastructure over the 20 years.

Taurai Mangudhla

Although this has attracted mixed reactions, particularly as it seems what appears unrealistic, Mzembi this week announced what appears to be a more attainable goal to grow the country’s annual tourism earning from US$1 billion as of December to US$5 billion in 2020.

At a press briefing on Monday ahead of the National Tourism Policy launch which was at the time scheduled for Thursday (yesterday), Mzembi said the increase in revenues would be achieved through improving the country’s policy and plugging leakages in tourism receipts.

“We have the potential to earn US$5 billion per annum by 2020. The US$5 billion is exactly the size of the national budget today. I am not dreaming,” Mzembi said.

In an interview with businessdigest this week Mzembi said about 20% of the US$5 billion is expected to come from religious tourism hence the ministry’s deliberate attempt to promote the type of tourism.

As part of an initiative to promote temples and religious conference facilities, the National Tourism Policy launch event was hosted at the celebration centre, said Mzembi.

“Basically we are designating temples as tourism centers and philosophically this was done by King Solomon,” he said.

Mzembi said religious tourism was a major opportunity for Zimbabwe as it accounts for a significant portion of global arrivals. He said 60% of tourist arrivals into Nigeria visit prophet T B Joshua’s Synagogue Church Of All Nations.

Mzembi said international statistics show that out of the five billion domestic arrivals, people moving within their borders, between 45-50% are for religious tourism.

“By opening this religious line we are opening arrival,” he said.
“Huge numbers of people are coming to PHD Ministries, to UFIC and celebration ministries every week. This shows how much is done by domestic tourism as a catalyst to the transport sector and beverages for example,” Mzembi said.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have an accounting method to help us measure these things.”

Currently, Zimbabwe is working on setting up a Tourism Satellite Account in partnership with the Sadc region.

Mzembi said development of the TSA was at an advanced stage. He also said the porous boarders remain a challenge to measuring tourism arrivals and receipts.

Mzembi said development of a SADC univisa is on track with a tourist visa for the Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area being developed.

“We are not yet there because one or two countries are questioning one or two clauses,” he said.

Upon completion, the univisa system is expected to boost travel and earnings.

A pilot project will be run between Zimbabwe and Zambia during the SADC Summit slated for August this year in Victoria Falls.

Zimbabwe’s tourism sector contributed 13% of GDP in 2013 and is expected to contribute 15% by 2015 on account of growth in arrivals.

However, the country remains one of the least in terms of openness to arrivals because of the visa regime which is skewed in favour of European markets which are being outgrown by the BRICS.

“The principal difficulty today is the opaqueness of the sector in terms of accessibility. Statistics show east Africa- that is countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda- have opened up to almost 69% and sub Saharan Africa is 29% with Zimbabwe and Malawi at 11%, which means we haven’t opened up, a mischief to our visa regime,” Mzembi said.

Mzembi said the visa system should be revised to attract more arrivals from the Brics. He also said the open skies policy must be fully implemented to grow the number of airlines landing on Zimbabwe’s runaways to at least 1999 levels where 48 airlines came to Zimbabwe.

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