HARARE - During the inclusive government era, Tourism minister Walter Mzembi was one of the most illustrious Cabinet members, and this was epitomised by the successful hosting of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly last year.
However, since his re-appointment to the Tourism portfolio after last year’s elections, Mzembi has decided to join the bandwagon of President Robert Mugabe’s praise singers instead of focusing his energies on developing the sector.
Last year, he cried on seeing the picture of a young Mugabe, all in a bid to make the president believe Mzembi cares for him. Yesterday Mugabe disclosed that Mzembi had arranged the honeymoon for Bona and her husband, Simba Chikore.
This comes two weeks after Mzembi was seen grovelling, as a way of bootlicking Mugabe at Chikore’s bachelor’s party.
Now that the European Union has eased its sanctions and removed most of the travel bans and restrictions on Zimbabwe, there is no reason why our tourism sector should not return to it’s glory days.
In the 1990s tourism was one of the largest contributors to Zimbabwe’s Gross Domestic Product and the situation only changed at the turn of the millennium when the country was placed under sanctions by the West due to its appalling human rights record.
A lot has changed since then and we now expect Mzembi to refrain from bootlicking the-powers-that-be and instead, sing another chorus of marketing the country vigorously as a safe and preferred tourism destination.
Zimbabwe is endowed with a unique geography, that includes the beautiful mountain ranges in Manicaland, the Victoria Falls, a host of national parks filled with millions of flora and fauna and the Great Zimbabwe. The country boasts of a good climate while the tourism resorts and accommodation compare with the best. Gifted with these exceptional tourism attractions, the sector should be thriving.
If only the minister could get his priorities right, Zimbabwe would be in a better position to attract over five million tourists annually compared to the 1,8 million that we have been receiving in the past few years.
Although Mzembi can argue that he is not getting enough money from Treasury to implement effective marketing strategies, he has simply run out of ideas.
Should the money be availed to him today, it’s unlikely that we would see any significant changes in the sector. Perhaps, he is now gratified that he brought the UNWTO general assembly to this part of the world, but that is not enough. More is expected more from you.
Tourism has the capacity to employ thousands through appropriate and comprehensive policies needed to attract tourists into the country to spend a week or so here.
Attracting high spending tourists into Zimbabwe would not only ease the liquidity crunch we are facing but would also go a long way in reducing the over 90 percent unemployment rate in the country.
Crucially, Mzembi has failed to introduce a simplified visa regime to assist tourists into Zimbabwe.
In a technologically-advanced world, most countries, in Africa and elsewhere, have very simplified visa regimes as a way of encouraging more visitors into their territories.
Despite him ranting about crafting a National Tourism Growth Strategy Vision 2020 aimed at boosting tourists’ receipts to over $5 billion in six years, the minister has failed to protect the industry from punitive duties imposed on tourism players by government last year.
Zimbabwe last year introduced a 15 percent value added tax on foreign receipts, a move tourism operators say is making the country an expensive destination.
Such a development is not only a setback for an industry slowly climbing out of a decade-long recession but will also hinder the travel and tourism sector’s drive to increase visitor arrivals and thereby increase foreign currency earnings by the sector.
Already, tourist arrivals from South Africa are on the decline following the weakening of the rand against the US dollar and the increased value added tax on non-resident guests will worsen the situation.
Instead of focusing on protecting and growing the industry, Mzembi is now focusing on venturing into diamond and gold mining — businesses that are totally divorced from his mandate.