TOURISM Minister Walter Mzembi is determined to bring back the shine and goodwill of Zimbabwe and make the country an attractive place for all visitors. For this to happen, there must be unity of purpose and harmony in all government departments. Indeed it is not a secret that Zimbabwe is endowed with a diversity of world class tourism attractions that have, unfortunately, not been fully utilised owing to policy inconsistencies and the politicisation of policy-making and decision-making processes.
Recently, we saw a group of more than 40 children coming to the UMOJA festival at Pakare Paye Arts Centre in Norton denied entry into the country apparently because they "had no police clearance." The discord in this fiasco exposed various bodies including the National Arts Council, the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the immigration departments as not working together.
Now at least 50 000 pilgrims from South Africa who were supposed to attend the annual conference of Jehovah's Witness to run between tomorrow and Sunday at the National Sports Stadium were stopped from coming into the country for fear of logistical nightmares. This is even more interesting when the Tourism Ministry has been on overdrive marketing "religious tourism."
Policy inconsistencies and disharmony primarily is a great challenge for the tourism industry. If planned, regulated and managed properly, tourism and hospitality can create jobs, drive infrastructural development and stimulate the economy, which is in desperate need of growth. It can also be a vehicle for national marketing.
The invasion of farms and tourist attractions by some political players at the turn of the millennium marred the international reputation of Zimbabwe, resulting in it being declared a pariah state. This has had an adverse effect on our economy. Negative publicity owing to poor political decisions has also impacted negatively on Zimbabwe's tourism and hospitality industry.
Zimbabwe is blessed with world-class tourism attractions such as the Victoria Falls, Great Zimbabwe, the Eastern Highlands, Matopo Hills and Hwange National Park among other destinations. And now that Zimbabwe now enjoys the chairmanship of the Southern African Development Community bloc, we should utilise the opportunity to mend fences and boost our international relations.
Industry players are sighing that government isn't putting its mouth where its money is. Or else something keeps getting lost in translation between the Tourism Ministry and various departments. Minister Mzembi has been absolutely right to identify tourism as an engine of investment and economic growth.
But changing the rules of the game willy-nilly at a point when Zimbabwe is still taking off after a decade long of economic paralysis, such efforts would not only render its campaign inutile but would also be detrimental to the credibility of Zimbabwe as a tourist destination in the local and international community. The inconsistent policies are exposing the government as being clueless and haphazard in its approach. We need to do more if we want to get the word out that our attractions are worth those extra hours of air travel and expenses, that Zimbabwe is truly a friendly country to visit.