4 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Mzembi Dismisses UNWTO Conference Fears

TOURISM minister Walter Mzembi has dismissed concerns that slow progress in rehabilitating infrastructure in Victoria Falls would result in Zimbabwe failing to meet requisite international standards for the successful hosting of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly set for August this year.

Observers have castigated the slow progress in upgrading the Victoria Falls International Airport and the construction of a conference centre to house the more than 3 000 delegates expected for the gathering, but Mzembi is adamant all would be in place for the conference.

A visit this week by the Zimbabwe Independent to both Victoria Falls and Livingstone, Zambia, the co-hosts of the UNWTO, revealed that both towns have still not completed infrastructural development crucial to the success of the event.

Mzembi conceded that the upgrading of the airport was long overdue because "each time you land two or three planes, you have people flowing on the tarmac and we must fix that, not just for the UNWTO but for people who will be coming at other times".

He, however, said there was still enough time to meet deadlines for the construction of major facilities, especially after government started to release funds.

Mzembi said his ministry would be receiving US$6 million from Finance minister Tendai Biti this week as part of government funding for the airport and conference centre which would immediately start.

He also disclosed Biti availed US$350 000 last week to enable his ministry to participate in fairs in Germany and Spain as part of efforts to market the UNWTO and Zimbabwe as a viable tourist destination.

Mzembi said he had secured a buy-in from the corporate sector as he seeks to deliver a memorable world class event. The biggest single investment is US$5 million expected from diamond mining firm Mbada Diamonds.

"Mbada will inject funds towards conferencing and hosting of delegates," said Mzembi. "They will also sponsor the official UNWTO dinner at the Victoria Falls Hotel where there will be 200 branded tables representing all the nations held in the open air overlooking the Victoria Falls Bridge."

Mzembi added that the deal was the culmination of a week of meetings held in the resort town with top level Mbada executives.

"We also expect to conclude deals with Africa Sun and Innscor this week which will see them coming in as strategic partners and even taking over the ownership of the conference facility. In fact, the private sector is coming in even more. They were waiting to test government commitment which has been demonstrated through the release of seed funding."

Zambia is yet to complete its infrastructural developments, which include a new terminal at the Harry Nkumbula Airport and computerisation of the Victoria Falls/Kazungula and Katima Mulilo border posts.

Other developments include the upgrading of ablution facilities, an inter-city bus terminus and street lighting along Livingstone's roads. Zambian government officials in Livingstone confirmed that construction would start this month and they expect to have finished everything by June.

Zambia also remains on the yellow fever alert which may scare away visitors but Tourism minister Sylvia Masebo said they were working with the World Health Organisation "with a view to getting the status down-listed from low to zero risk".

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