25 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Tourism Sector Poised for Good Times

THE tourism industry has been identified as one of the vital pillars for transforming the country's economy and this year, the sector was expected to experience a modicum growth rate of 3,9 percent.

Of course, that annual growth rate can and should be higher, on the basis of some significant developments that have taken place in the sector, notably the opportunity granted to host the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly with Zambia in August next year.

During the third quarter, the country's tourist arrivals had increased by 17 percent on the back of renewed confidence from the country's source markets. Official statistics showed that tourist arrivals in the third quarter were 768 000 up from 637 300 recorded in the same period last year.

A breakdown of these figures shows that the African market emerged as the main source after accounting for a 19 percent share of the total tourist arrivals during the period under review.

The European Union market came second contributing 18 percent. Within the EU, the United Kingdom, however, remained the main source with a 26 percent share of tourists visiting Zimbabwe.

The Middle East supplied the least number of tourists with only 1 466 visiting Zimbabwe. The figure represented a 36 percent decrease compared to last year.

The rise in tourist arrivals showed commitment to the recovery of the industry Government and private sector.

The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority projects that the industry will contribute 15 percent to the Gross Domestic Product by 2015.

Another notable achievement during the period under review was the successful hosting of this year's edition of the Sanganai/Hlanganani Expo.

Zimbabwe's tourism sector has the potential to be one of the fastest growing sectors, benefiting from the continued recovery in both global and domestic economic activity, and also on the back of targeted marketing strategies.

Presenting the 2013 National Budget, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said the sector is expected to grow by about 4 percent underpinned by the hotels and restaurants sector.

He noted that the successful hosting of the UNTWO General Assembly should facilitate showcasing the potential of our tourism products, facilities and infrastructure, spurring prospects for further growth.

"Taking advantage of this (UNWTO General Assembly hosting) will also be dependent on our capacity to overcome other challenges which include . . . re-investments in uplifting some of the 'tired' tourism facilities and infrastructure," he said.

Government has already expressed satisfaction at the progress that has been made on facilities to be used by delegates that will attend the General Assembly.

According to the Ministry of Economic Planning and Investment Promotion -- which is overseeing annual sector targets in respect of implementing the Medium Term Plan -- a number of hotels and lodges in the resort town have refurbished their facilities.

"Whilst refurbishment is still underway for most facilities, A'Zambezi River Lodge and Stanley & Livingstone have finished.

"Victoria Falls Safari Lodge has added 20 rooms to its facility, and Khanondo Safaris has put 16 luxury suites at their lodge in Chinotimba Township," said Economic Planning and Investment Promotion Minister Tapiwa Mashakada in the first annual MTP Implementation Progress Report.

While many people believed that hosting the meeting would mean the building of new infrastructure that has not proved to be the case as the country is doing relatively well with the structures already in existence.

When the decision was made in September last year by the UNWTO to award the hosting of the event to Zimbabwe (in conjunction with Zambia), the Government indicated it would build new conference facilities, new hotels, and other infrastructure upgrades. However, this has not exactly come to fruition.

Nonetheless, the UNWTO General Assembly should be an opportunity for stakeholders to improve on an already outstanding destination. On the other hand, the Sanganai/Hlanganani Travel Expo that was held in October generated business worth US$200 million with more than 1 500 local and foreign exhibitors participating.

ZTA hosted 95 foreign buyers and they said they were targeting 200 buyers for the 2013 edition of the expo.

Sanganai also ushered in Township Tourism, which was launched successfully in Highfield high-density suburb.

On a sad note, however, the country's bankers said that they did not prioritise funding the tourism sector, notwithstanding the fact that tourism in Zimbabwe is one of four pillars anchoring economic growth after mining, agriculture and manufacturing. In this respect, however, the ZTA said it would now increase its engagement with local banks to ensure that the concerns and aspirations of tourism players are heard and understood by them.

Meanwhile, resumption of regional and international flights by Air Zimbabwe, together with increased direct flights into the country by major international airlines, will also support the rebound in tourism.

In respect of further developments, the tourism industry is also in the process of formulating a Tourism Satellite Accounting System, which is a mechanism that effectively and accurately traces and measures the contribution that tourism makes across the whole industry.

The system also captures actual value inflows of tourism into the economy, that way curbing leakages in tourism accounting.

Government will, therefore, continue to support this project to its completion targeted for 2015.

Zimbabwe's tourism sector indeed has potential for significant growth.

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