2 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Banks Cannot Afford to Ignore Tourism


AT the inception of the inclusive Government, the tourism industry was identified and subsequently pronounced one of the four pillars of Zimbabwe's economic turnaround programmes. But surprisingly, four years on, the tourism and hospitality industry in Zimbabwe is not in the top 10 funding priorities of banks in the country.

Why Zimbabwe does not have a bank specifically set up to fund the tourism and hospitality industry defies logic. The yawning gulf in thought and policy between Government and our banks is too wide and detrimental for our country, given that we need to be sprucing up our multifarious array of facilities ahead of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation's General Assembly set for August 24 next year.

In fact, with or without the hosting of UNWTO General Assembly, tourism is the face of the country, the image and perception builder, things that are critical for any investment.

During the just ended Sanganai/Hlanganani World Travel Africa Fair, banks dampened the spirits of the tourism and hospitality industry at a business meeting, when they made it categorically clear that they do not consider tourism among the top 10 financing priorities.

The full import is that if one tourism facility was to apply for funding today, it was unlikely to be considered ahead of mining, farming and even vending.

Paradoxically, tourism, through the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority's perception management programme, played a much bigger role in cleaning up the image of Zimbabwe, long damaged by the country's detractors.

It was through the perception management programme that several international artistes and luminaries came to Zimbabwe to experience the real Zimbabwe and tell the true story.

That done, Zimbabwe has become largely acceptable in the international community. Zimbabwe has now become a safe investment destination.

Zimbabwe has become a good place for banking, for doing business. But the same tourism industry that rattled pressure and forced the removal of travel bans and warning that had stalled American and European Union citizens from visiting and doing business in Zimbabwe, remains unfunded.

Is it not a typical case of a donkey thanking its feeder with a volley of kicks?

ZTA chief executive Mr Karikoga Kaseke believes it is important for banks to reconsider their position and start funding the tourism sector, especially as we prepare to host the UNWTO General Assembly.

"The Bankers Association of Zimbabwe has painted a gloomy picture on funding. We were all told at the Business Forum that tourism is not among the top 10 priority for funding yet we need to prioritise funding for the tourism sector, because without funding the industry will not develop.

"In fact, we urgently need to set up a revolving fund to finance the tourism and hospitality industry. We used to have a revolving fund started in 2007 but it died a natural death at the inception of the inclusive Government.

"It is our belief now that the Infrastructure Development Bank should establish a tourism desk immediately, while we work on a full-fledged tourism bank in the format of Agribank," says Mr Kaseke.

Hotels and Restaurant Association of Zimbabwe president Mr Tich Hwingwiri says the tourism facilities in the country require a US$100 million revolving fund, as a starting point. He said it defied logic that banks, in which tourism facilities bank their money, are not forthcoming with funding.

"Our facilities are banking every day as per the law but when it comes to funding we are not a priority. Our facilities need sprucing up and a revolving fund of US$100 million is a good starting point," says Mr Hwingwiri.

When all is said and done a bank set aside specifically for the tourism and hospitality industry is a long-term answer to the funding problems of this fast growing industry.

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