'$5bn tourism target doomed'

HARARE - Tourism minister Walter Mzembi’s target to have the sector contribute $5 billion to Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2018 is farfetched and unattainable, analysts say.

They said the country must address its political situation first in order to attract tourists.

Zimbabwe’s tourism industry is currently recovering after taking a knock due to political instability and an economic meltdown.

Latest Zimbabwe Tourism Authority statistics indicate that the country recorded a two percent growth in tourist arrivals from 1 794 230 in 2012 to 1 832 570 in 2013.

Despite the increase, the arrivals are yet to reach the peak of 2,2 million tourists recorded in 1999.

The majority of 2013 arrivals were low-spending tourists from mainland Africa who came in at 1 570 799.

John Robertson, an independent economist, argued that the notion that the tourism sector will contribute $5 billion to Zimbabwe’s GDP — estimated at $10 billion — is “a bit ambitious”.

“The country is not attractive to tourists from the traditional markets which are in the West,” he said.

“For the minister’s forecast to be realised there is need to address the issue of the political image and how the immigration and customs staff treat tourists.

“If the past is addressed, maybe the sector will contribute significantly to the country’s economy,” said Robertson.

After Zimbabwe embarked on a land repossession exercise back in 2002, followed by political instability which led to an acute economic crisis, tourists particularly from key source markets like Europe started shunning Zimbabwe.

The country’s traditional tourist markets are Europe, the Americas and Australia.

Robertson added that “there are scary reports of tourists being displaced in a series on on-going land grab exercises by the Zanu PF-led government… at this rate the $5 billion projection will never be realised.”

Takunda Mugaga, also an economist, said Mzembi’s goal could only be attainable if Zimbabwe’s political risk is addressed.

“Tourism has been steadily growing and if government wants to meet the $5 billion projection there is need to improve on the country’s international image,” he said.

“No matter how much Mzembi works as a minister, his efforts will amount to nothing if the other ministries in government do not help him,” said Mugaga.

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