Unlocking Zimbabwe’s tourism potential

There must be no doubt in anyone’s mind that tourism continues to be one of the fastest-growing and most dynamic sectors in Africa and this must therefore necessarily include Zimbabwe. Tourism has the potential to create jobs, boost an inclusive economy and reduce poverty (especially in the rural tourism sector). In addition it can be a significant generator of foreign currency while contributing significantly to GDP.

Vince Musewe

It is critical, therefore, that we focus on this sector as a quick win sector which does not require as much kick start capital as other capital intensive sectors would.

According the Africa Tourism Monitor Report (2016), published by the African Development Bank, out of an estimated 1.186 billion global tourist arrivals per annum Africa welcomed just over 62.5 million arrivals which represents a mere 5.3% of the total international arrivals figure.   For example, Spain alone with a population of about 46 million, attracts about 60 million visitors per annum!

UNWTO forecasts that African tourism will continue to expand and international tourist arrivals in Africa will, by 2030, reach an estimated 134 million visitors per annum. What will be our share in that?

Out of the 62.5 million, Zimbabwe attracted about 2.06 million visitors, reflecting the significant upside potential which still exists and needs to be tapped.

Morocco, Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe are in the 5 top rankings for most visited African destinations while Algeria, Mozambique, and Kenya are also top most visited African countries.

What do we need to do to unlock this potential in Zimbabwe?

It is said that most investors are tourists first, so attracting tourists must inevitably part and parcel of any investment drive namely- “Zimbabwe is open for Business”. The potential of tourism in Zimbabwe must be unlocked through a comprehensive and holistic approach and as citizens, we all need to appreciate its benefits so that we too can promote our country whenever we may get the opportunity to do so.

In my opinion, it is therefore not the sole responsibility of government or the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) to promote our country, but all of us should do so to the benefit of our people and economy. I have argued before that, in my opinion, we need to change our attitudes to our approach to tourism. While the ZTA must promote, facilitate and regulate, we must move away from a prescriptive culture and for me Zimbabwe Tourism Promotion Agency would certainly be a more appropriate name! But I digress.

The African Tourism Monitor Reports over the years, have identified that “one of the key constraints that limits the effectiveness of the tourism industry to play a greater role in the national economies and development and transformation is that of transport infrastructure and services.”  This applies to both the continent and more so to Zimbabwe.

At a continental level, according to a 2010 World Bank report, liberalized air services lead to increased global trade, which is associated with competitive air carriers, more frequent flights, and lower fares. It opens the door to increased travel both within the continent and internationally. Open Skies for Africa is the solution and this needs political will and support. The upgrade and construction of new airports is also a key success factor and we are well on our way, but we need more urgency to construct new airports in our provinces.

The solution here in Zimbabwe, in my opinion, is for the tourism sector to work closely with infrastructure project implementers and government to agree on priority projects which have an immediate positive direct impact on tourism.

We need a “national agenda on increasing tourist volumes” and that must involve everyone and not only the ministry of tourism. The tourism private sector needs to present to us the “national infrastructure projects priority list” as a start and they need to drive it and not wait for government to come up with own priorities.

Further to that, we must then attract specific local and foreign investment for our tourism sector, just as we do for other sectors such as agriculture and mining. For example a “Tourism Investment Fund” could be a good idea and again, it need not necessarily come from government. It is time we all take action and responsibility for our own development.

Another key action area which may not seem obvious is that of supporting visa facilitation, including e-visa and regional visa cooperation. It is suggested that visa facilitation systems and policies can augment tourism revenues and increase employment by levels of 5% to 25%.

For example, according to the Africa Tourism Monitor Report (2015), The East African Community (EAC) launched a single visa called the EAC Visa in February 2014, engaging Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. This initiative allows tourists to purchase a visa at the border, and then enter the other two countries on the same visa, for $100 in total, for a maximum 90 days. We need to do same for SADC.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) publishes the “Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index” every two years, the latest one being in 2017. In that very comprehensive 387 page report, Zimbabwe was ranked 114 out of 136. This is quite a comprehensive index which tries to look at all contributing factors under each country’s enabling environment, tourism policy, infrastructure and natural and cultural resources. (Readers can search for this and read it further themselves.)

The key indicators for 2017 for Zimbabwe in that report were:

International tourist arrivals (2,056,588), international tourism inbound receipts (US $886.0 million), average receipts per arrival (US $430.8), T&T industry contribution to GDP (US $703.0 million or 5.2%), T&T industry employment (180,028 jobs).

In the report we score high on safety and security and also on natural and cultural resources but our pricing regime is not that competitive and this has been the industry’s cry.

Now, the question we must ask ourselves is who is responsible for the ultimate pricing of tourism services in the country? At this stage I am not sure, but I know that the ZTA certainly is not. We need to resolve this through collaboration among all the players. This is the critical game changer and shifting blame or kicking the can down the road must stop. We need action now.

For me the key issues which require immediate attention are marketing and promotion of the country and tourist assets, ease of getting visas, infrastructure (including transportation, telecommunications connectivity etc.), safety and security, ease of making payment for purchases and competitive pricing of services. Let us deal with these issues as a matter of urgency and we shall see our tourist volumes growing exponentially.

Zimbabwe will certainly rise, but we need to reengineer and re-invent ourselves in every sector and this begins with our attitude. Too many a time I have come across individuals and organisations who are committed to trashing Zimbabwe and we must not pay an iota of attention to them because we lose nothing by dreaming and imagining big.

Vince Musewe is an economist and economic development policy advisor and you may contact him on [email protected]

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