Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi has lashed out at the British government for trying to undermine Zimbabwe's marked growth in tourism development.
Addressing delegates at the World Travel Market Ministerial Summit in London, Minister Mzembi took British Sport and Tourism Minister Hugh Robertson to task for denying exhibitors and delegates from Zimbabwe entry into the country. A Zimbabwean delegation to the meeting was denied visas into the United Kingdom.
Contributing to the debate under the theme "Open Borders, Open Skies -- breaking barriers to travel", Minister Mzembi challenged the British to "explain the hypocrisy of inviting the world to debate such an appropriate theme for the growth of travel and tourism on one hand and at a more practical and micro-level, denying exhibitors and delegates to the World Travel Market entry into the country on the other."
The British government had reportedly re-issued a travel advisory on Zimbabwe.
The advisory reads in part: "Beware that the open hand is the political symbol of the former opposition, now party of the Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. So, a friendly wave may be misinterpreted."
It also warns that "although the economic outlook in Zimbabwe has improved, political tension remains, particularly in light of a possible constitutional referendum and election in 2012/3.
"Farm invasions continue often accompanied by violent looting of property. Exercise caution when visiting areas you are not familiar with."
The British government also claimed a typhoid outbreak has been reported in several of Harare's western suburbs "with over 4 000 cases identified".
"The outbreak is on going in other provinces," the British government warns.
However, Minister Mzembi, in interviews with BBC and SKY TV, challenged the British to produce evidence on the death of their citizen or any foreigner in Zimbabwe over the past 25 years.
"They need to corroborate their violence fears."
Minister Mzembi said: "It is not possible that this could be a fresh advisory, but seemingly appears to be a regurgitation of an old advisory, which could be playing in the hands of a private media ahead of elections, but doing so with blatant and irresponsible disregard to enormous damage to Brand Zimbabwe.
"Without necessarily absolving the British Embassy in Harare, whom I had been talking to up to the time of departure for London, they have a responsibility to issue a fresh truthful and accurate clean bill of health that advises honestly on what is practically on the ground, a peaceful Zimbabwe, in conversation with each other to find a lasting solution to its challenges, many of which are in the past."
Minister Mzembi said the old advisory, when reissued or replayed became the new one.
"It must be scrapped off, that's what international best practice demands."
He said the British government was in violation of Article 6 of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation Global Code of Ethics on travel advisories.
Minister Mzembi told delegates that Zimbabwe was not engaged before the latest advisories.
"There appears to be a trend where the British government is substituting legitimate Government with non-governmental organisations that are readily available for hire," he said.
"The latest advisory appears to be sponsored by a statement from one Blessing Gorejena, a programme co-ordinator at ZimRights, whose statement in August warns of violence in Zimbabwe due to constitutional reform and elections.
"How a whole super-power government can form an opinion on another sovereign State based on NGO logic, beats me," he said.
"Travel advisories should be accurate, relevant and appropriate. They should avoid ambiguous language as well as bias and political considerations."
Minister Mzembi said although the United Kingdom was not a UNWTO member, it could not "absolve itself from peer review and compliance to global ethics on tourism, which is a moral issue."
South African Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk and his Egyptian counterpart Dr Hisham Zazou condemned the British's airport departure taxes.
The British earn at least 2,5 billion pounds in taxes, but these negatively impact on long haul travel to African destinations. Minister Robertson reportedly defended the British position saying his government needed all possible revenue since his country was still recovering from a recession.
Zimbabwe is preparing to co-host with Zambia the UNWTO general assembly in August next year.
The general assembly is expected to boost the tourism sector in both countries. Tourism generates at least US$1,3 trillion in direct income while Africa gets between three to four percent of the market share.