Tourism sector can be rescued

The recently released 2017 World Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report — compiled by the World Economic Forum — confirms that the tourism industry is one of Zimbabwe’s strongest economic sectors.

Zimbabwe Independent Comment

According to the report, the country has a fairly competitive travel and tourism product. Unfortunately, the sector is hampered from fulfilling its potential by several factors. The report reveals that Zimbabwe generated US$886 million in international inbound tourist receipts in 2016. This compares favourably with Zambia which earned US$660,1 million. The strength of Zimbabwe’s travel and tourism industry is further underlined by the country’s ranking in the “safest destinations” category. In this category, Britain is ranked the 78th safest travel and tourism destination in the world, way lower than Zimbabwe (60th). Interestingly, four other African countries are deemed safer than Britain, namely Rwanda, Morocco, The Gambia, and Malawi. To retain its ranking, Zimbabwe must ensure peaceful elections next year and that the rule of law is respected.

The safety rankings take into account “the costliness of common crime and violence as well as terrorism, and the extent to which police services can be relied upon to provide protection from crime,” says the WEF report. But beyond glib soundbites, Zimbabwe has a lot to learn from Rwanda in building a resilient and competitive tourism industry. The landlocked East African nation — renowned for forested volcanoes and mountain gorillas — is ranked the continent’s safest destination and the 9th safest in the world. Rwanda generated US$318 million in tourist receipts in 2016, the survey reveals.

This is a remarkable turnaround for a country that has survived genocide, war and massive turmoil in recent memory.

We must remember what the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) recently revealed with regards the sentiments of international tourists towards the country’s tourism experience. Of the 38 680 tourists who were polled by Zimstat in a 12-month period between November 2015 and November 2016 through a visitor exit survey, almost half said they had been harassed by the Zimbabwe Republic Police. A whopping 43,2% said they had been mistreated by the police; 14,7% said they had been harassed by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and 8,7% said they had come into contact with hostile immigration officers.

Paul Matamisa, who heads the Council for Tourism, says it is unacceptable that there are 20 roadblocks on the 440-kilometre highway linking Harare to Bulawayo. The harassment of tourists is not the only factor hampering Zimbabwe’s hospitality. There is the unresolved issue of extortionate pricing. This country cannot fulfil its potential and compete favourably with other destinations in Africa as long as the cost of accommodation, food and adventure activities remains unjustifiably high. Our neighbours are making headway. The World Travel and Tourism Council forecasts that between 2016 and 2026, Angola, Uganda and Mozambique will be among the 10 fastest growing destinations for leisure-travel spending on the planet.

The World Economic Forum says travel and tourism contributed US$7,6 trillion to the global economy (10,2% of global Gross Domestic Product) and generated 292 million jobs (1 in 10 jobs on the planet) in 2016.

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