HARARE -Tourism minister Walter Mzembi says Zimbabwe must value property rights to ensure that the country attracts more tourists.
Zimbabwe’s tourism sector hit an all-time low in the decade ending 2008 following diplomatic rows with Western countries, resulting in travel warnings being issued against visiting the southern African country.
But thawing relations — following the formation of a unity government between president Robert Mugabe and long-time rival Morgan Tsvangirai in 2009 — have seen Western countries, Zimbabwe’s key source markets, relaxing the travel warnings.
However, lack of respect for property rights by the Zanu PF-led government, among other policy inconsistencies, are dampening efforts to boost tourist arrivals.
“We need to reaffirm our respect for property rights in the country and package and interpret for daily use our investment code which should be readily available in all forms, print and electronic media included, without having to be constantly amplified, reinforced or corrected through political voices,” Mzembi said.
“Unfortunately, the reality with this market, notwithstanding its negative disposition towards us, is that they are currently holding the bulk of investment stock in the hospitality sector directly or indirectly and inform the attitude of the tourism wholesale and retail value chain.”
“So when Tourism (industry) calls for sanity in the Save Valley Conservancy, we are not doing the bidding for the few remaining white investors but are just being streetwise in the national interest to keep the remaining 13 percent from disappearing altogether,” he said.
Analysts say property rights in Zimbabwe have been under the spotlight for the last 15 years after the government seemed to sanction the invasion of white-owned commercial farms by what it deemed land hungry peasants.
The commercial farmers were not compensated, sparking tense relations between Zimbabwe and Britain.
The country has struggled to attract foreign direct investment in recent years or funding for its economic blueprint, ZimAsset, due to concerns over the perceived lack of respect for property rights and uncertain business climate and in particular the implementation of the empowerment law.
Mzembi, who recently launched a National Tourism Policy aimed at attracting over $5 billion in tourism receipts by 2020, said the country must work on its brand image within the next six years to boost arrivals.
“Our benchmark year is 1999, when 27 percent of international arrivals were from Europe and America.
“We are down to 13 percent, with this high expenditure and leading source market.
“An absolute review of Brand Zimbabwe appears to be the action required in this market,” he said.
Zimbabwe currently earns on average $1 billion annually from tourism receipts, falling behind its peers such as South Africa which clocks $12 billion and Tanzania at $1,7 billion.