'Negative perception to affect tourism targets'

HARARE - Zimbabwe's projected 2013 tourism industry growth targets depend on the country changing the negative perception in key source markets, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has warned.

The southern African nation — whose image was seriously blemished by politics — has been struggling over the past decade to shake off the “red flag” perception, mainly in European and American markets.

In his 2013 national budget, Finance minister Tendai Biti projected that the tourism industry would grow by about four percent in 2013.

Apart from managing the perceived bad image, AfDB said; “The achievement of these targets hinges on… re-investment in the upliftment of some of the country’s tired tourism facilities and infrastructure.”

“Of the allocation ($6,13 million allocated to tourism for 2013) only $750 000 was channelled towards tourism promotion while $1,75 million was channelled towards tourism programmes, chief among them being the hosting of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) next year in Victoria Falls,” said AfDB in its December Zimbabwe monthly economic review.

The country expects to host over 5 000 visitors at the UNWTO assembly.

The formation of the inclusive government between President Robert Mugabe and long-time rival Morgan Tsvangirai in early 2009 — which calmed the political and socio-economic situation — saw some markets lift travel warnings on the country.

However, continued reports of violence, farm seizures, the indigenisation policy and impending elections have seen tourists and investors failing to warm up to the country.

Recently, Karikoga Kaseke, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA)’s chief executive, said the hospitality industry lost nearly $8 million in “cancelled” hotel bookings due to an announcement that elections might be held in March.

He said it would be prudent if the elections were held in March to prevent further losses to the economy and businesses.

“Every year that we have an election, our tourism figures go down,” he told businessdaily, signalling that an earlier and confirmed March election would dampen source-market anxiety over possible socio-economic instability often associated with Zimbabwe’s elections.

“…should the elections be held in August, then we have to brace ourselves for further bookings cancellations and we will lose around $16 million.”

“It is unfortunate that elections in Zimbabwe are associated with violence and I feel they must be done earlier so that we can go back to normal,” Kaseke said.

“As we are speaking now, we have a record of confirmed hotel bookings that have been cancelled,” he added.
The election talk has also seen investors shying away from the country.

Kaseke added that if elections were to be held at a date later than March, it would be difficult to recoup the cancelled bookings as tourists would have already made plans to visit other destinations.

In November, Biti said a repeat of the 2008 election would “collapse the nascent foundation we have built over the last three years”.

“What we are afraid of in Zimbabwe are elections that are to be held next year. And I am appealing to the principals for peace,” Biti said. - John Kachembere

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