The tourism sector plays a critical role in economic transformation of the country and is one of the fastest ways of generating jobs, First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa has said.
She said this in a speech read on her behalf by the deputy director in the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Ms Maria Adriano during the Matabeleland North Provincial Tourism Debates launch at Lupane State University (LSU) in Lupane yesterday.
Students from different Bulawayo and Matabeleland North learning institutions gathered at LSU for the debates that were launched under the theme: "Towards economic transformation-product, positioning, people, partnerships making Vision 2030 a reality."
The First Lady said tourism is fundamental in rebuilding the country's economy. She said the tourism debates will open the minds of youths on the vast opportunities that they can seize for economic transformation.
"I want to talk about how incredibly important our tourism industry is and what we need to do now to make the most of it in our country. Tourism is a fiercely competitive market, requiring skills, talent and enterprise.
"It's fundamental to the rebuilding and rebalancing of our economy and it's one of the best and fastest ways of generating the jobs we need so badly in this country," said the First Lady.
She said the implementation of tourism debates at national level has been long overdue adding that she was proud of youths for taking the right steps in nationalising issues.
"Economic transformation is something that has been taken for granted. For many years, we've been the envy of the world's travellers and we need to develop a high quality, sustainable tourism product. A tourism product that complements mining and agriculture in transforming our economy through creating more jobs, exports and infrastructure development," said Amai Mnangagwa.
The First Lady said the country has one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls, heritage sites, wildlife, scenery, welcome and friendly people and world class accommodation facilities.
She, however, expressed concern over the lack of direct flights, which makes it difficult for guests to conveniently travel in and out of the country from some parts of the world.
"I urge youths to see these tourism debates as an opportunity to reflect on our economic and social future and to take stock of the central role that tourism plays in both.
"Youths should take necessary steps to educate, train and equip themselves to be part of that future," she said.
Amai Mnangagwa urged youths to start tourism enterprises and take advantage of loan facilities being offered by Empower Bank.
The debates will take place in all provinces and the First Lady is expected to attend all of them with the final competition to be held during the Zimbabwe Youth in Tourism annual conference in September.
Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs Minister, Richard Moyo, who was represented by the deputy director in his office, Mr Tapera Mugoriya, said the debates programme was a platform that brings together tertiary institutions and promotes the tourism sector.
"The idea is to energise the youths so that they can also exploit the opportunities available in the tourism industry in ways that benefit themselves and our country.
"The beauty of the tourism sector is that it cuts across all sectors and is the fastest growing sector contributing significantly to job creation," said Minister Moyo.
He said his province was endowed with natural resources that form the backbone of the province's and country's tourism industry. LSU Vice Chancellor Professor Pardon Kuipa said the Government's National Tourism Master Plan clearly articulates areas of potential development for the youth while the tourism sector was aimed at maximising the sector's efforts at growing the tourism economy.
"Youths should think outside the box, push boundaries and experiment with new ideas and form an important market segment, which is a vital resource for economic transformation," said Prof Kuipa.
"It's no secret that youths dominate all the social media networks and are therefore well placed to play a leading role in promoting our cultural heritage sites and tourism in general."