TOURISM and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi on Tuesday said his ministry was leading an aggressive drive to raise US$90 million to upgrade hotel infrastructure, retool and set up a revolving facility for the sector. Speaking in an interview after touring Meikles Hotel's north wing, currently undergoing renovations, Minister Mzembi said Government, through his ministry, was facilitating the fund-raising in and outside Zimbabwe.
He said tourism, as the second best performing sector after mining, had endured the agony of zero fiscal support and expensive short-term loans from commercial funding institutions.
"We are on the market, within and outside the country. We are looking at fund-raising US$90 million. That has been our target for the last one year or so, to land US$90 million in our account," he said.
The minister would not discuss the final details of terms on which the funds would be borrowed or extended to beneficiaries. But said he had made "huge progress" towards securing the money.
The sector has continued to battle funding distress, despite the huge capital appetite ahead of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly which Zimbabwe will co-host with Zambia next August.
Minister Mzembi is also yet to receive the US$12 million his ministry requested from Treasury to prepare for the UNWTO. Zambia received US$20 million from its Treasury to prepare for the event.
But Minister Mzembi said he remained optimistic that the funding would be secured from Treasury for the country to prepare for and host the UNWTO premier event in a uniquely African way.
"Our industry has survived by borrowing largely over the commercial counter.
"Now we are saying that the ministry/Government should lead the process to mobilise resources for the sector. We are looking for resource parcels that can help our industry retool and re-kit," he said.
Meikles has already taken steps to ensure full preparedness for the UNWTO indaba and also tap into the numerous opportunities it believes will be presented by renewed growth in travel and toursm.
Meikles Limited, the holding parent of Meikles Hospitality, has made available US$8,5 million to refurbish, renovate and re-equip the hotel, a programme to be undertaken in two phases.
Managing director for Meikles Hospitality Mr Karl Snater said there had been many encouraging signs of growth in the sector.
He said he looked forward to increased interest in Zimbabwe as a tourist destination.
"Along with our colleagues throughout the sector, we look forward to increased interest in Zimbabwe as a destination for travellers of all kinds, especially at the upper end of the business and leisure markets, which is where Meikles is positioned as a first and natural choice," he said.
This will involve refurbishing 135 north wing bedrooms and bathrooms, extension of suite and club (for business people) facilities and upgrading the air-conditioning plant for north and south wings. In total, Meikles has 306 rooms, with the remaining ones to be covered under phase two.
Furthermore, the upgrades will cover replacement of north wing guest lifts, additional standby generators (350Kva), refashioning public areas and toilets, public areas, reception, coffee and kitchens.
The ongoing renovations at Meikles, which would result in new facilities such as new fittings in toilets and bathrooms, electrical (flat screen TVs), business work areas and lounge facilities, would also see the introduction of an all-new Presidential Suite and enlarged and new Imperial Suite.
Renovations for the initial phase, covering floors 10 to 12, is expected to be completed by end of next month. New exciting additions include new wine lists, new cuisines and presentation styles.
Mr Snater said Meikles and its industry partner, African Sun, had also set aside US$3 million for the renovation of their co-operated Victoria Falls Hotel before Zimbabwe hosts the UNWTO General Assembly.