We must jack up our tourism industry

The Minister of Tourism, Engineer Walter Mzembi, recently made a blunt statement on the state of affairs in the hospitality industry. He said that local hospitality standards had fallen far short of international benchmarks.

Walter Mzembi
Walter Mzembi

“My officials have travelled a great deal in the last two years. We are, therefore, in a position to compare the standards and quality of service that we have in our hotels and restaurants with those that we see in overseas destinations whose populations constitute the world’s biggest international tourism markets,” said Mzembi.

It is so refreshing to behold a Zanu (PF) government minister who is honest, hardworking and committed to his responsibility like Mzembi. A good number of them are thuggish good-for-nothings who are only interested in hoarding for themselves as much loot as they can. Their ministries are side-lined as they spend most of their time caring for their ill-gotten personal business empires or instigating violence against the opposition.

When glaring faults in their ministries are pointed out they are quick with counter attacks, defences, and excuses. They blame so-called sanctions, the media, the West, opposition political parties – everything else but themselves. Well done, Mzembi! Identifying a fault is the first step in making it right. If we only had a few more ministers like you Zimbabwe would be saved.

Mammoth task

Mzembi has a mammoth, if not impossible, task on his hands. The major thing working against him is that because of violence and poor governance Zimbabwe has a poor reputation as an international tourism destination. Secondly, what he said about the hospitality industry can also be said about the state of our national parks and wild life which are our major tourist attractions.

Writing in The Standard of 30 October, Tarisai Shumba paints a bleak picture as he describes the mismanagement of these assets. He said national parks and lodges are in poor condition, as are roads and water supply for the animals. Illegal hunting has decimated an estimated 80% of wildlife in the past 12 years.

The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority head of public relations, Sugar Chagonda, is on record urging the media to play an active role in marketing tourism destinations in order to boost domestic and foreign tourism. He warned against negative reporting as this could harm the industry. However, he also said, “This is not to say the media should undermine the truth reporting on negative issues. Positive negativism could be used when handling tourism issues as this can also help in the formulation of policies that will improve our tourism infrastructures.”

Mana pools

It is in this spirit of positive negativism that I write to comment on my first hand experience at Mana Pools National Park last month. Every year, for the last four years, I and seven of my friends, who are mostly pensioners, take off for Mana, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, to fish, watch game and to enjoy the fresh air, “kurohwa nemhepo.” In these four years we have watched the standard of facilities and services deteriorate slowly but surely.

This year things were really bad. Even though we had booked and paid for our lodge months in advance, there were no noticeable prior preparations for our arrival. When we arrived at Muchichiri Lodge, at sunset, there was no lighting because the generator was down or something. Fortunately the gas stove was working. The deep-freezer was not working. We usually buy ice blocks on our way to supplement the small freezer the lodge. This time there was no ice in Karoi. The small town was cleaned out of ice blocks by those going to Kariba for the annual Tiger Fishing Tournament.

This was disaster as the temperature was above 40 degrees Celsius and drinking the tap water was like drinking hot tea. The cold water we had brought didn’t last very long and soon we were all dehydrated and sweating. When we arrived we were informed that a tourist had died in one of the lodges, probably from heat-stroke.

The staff tried their best to repair our freezer but without success. For lighting we had to connect their system to our car battery. In the bathrooms the promised toiletries were nowhere to be found. On the fourth day we had to hurry back because one of us was on the verge of collapse from dehydration. He recovered at Makuti after downing several energy drinks and a cup of yogurt.

These criticisms might seem petty but if we are to maintain international tourism standards they are crucial. Unfortunately Mzembi is not in charge of National Parks and Wild Life -even though they have an overbearing impact on his Ministry of Tourism. These are under the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Management which is the domain of Zanu (PF) Minister Francis Nhema and his staff.

One cannot help but agree with Shumba who concluded his article by saying, “Unless drastic changes are forthcoming in manning and heading the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the national asset of wildlife will continue to be squandered. Tourism accounts for over 10% of GDP and employment. Will this government; this Cabinet leave the fate of such a large contribution to our well-being to incompetent politicians who have proved beyond doubt that they have no interest or ability in managing their responsibility for our national assets?”

However, I must say we had a good time despite these shortcomings. From right in front of our lodge we observed impala, elephant, buffalo, waterbuck, bush pig, antelope, and other animals, whose identity we argued about, as they came to drink from the mighty Zambezi. Hippopotamus, of course, were our rather noisy next door neighbours. I also saw a porcupine for the first time in my life.

The fishing was not so good because the river was flowing too fast. Also, we could not visit many fishing spots because of the heat. However, I as the expert fisherman in the group, caught lots of chessa which thrive in fast waters. Some we braaied and the rest I salted, dried in the sun and took home to Gogo.

Post published in: Environment

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