|‘We have received juicy offers for the UNWTO’|
|Saturday, 05 May 2012 14:04|
DM: There seems to be a lot of hype — probably justified — about the upcoming United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly scheduled for next year, but apparently little is being said about the local hospitality industry. So, how are we faring so far this year?
Beyond that, it is also the most significant sign of Zimbabwe’s international re-engagement since the life of the inclusive Government. It also attests to the level of excitement around this event and the benefits that it is set to bring with it. Having said that, we continue to get reminded of the significance of this event by His Excellency President Robert Mugabe at various fora, at every opportunity. He reminds the nation about the significance of this event and the benefits it will bring with it in terms of international diplomacy, in terms of brand endorsement, in terms of destination endorsement and, ultimately, in terms of the sectoral benefits accruing to tourism as a sector.
It is also important to unpack just the venue itself, the Victoria Falls — by benchmarking it to other falls in the world: The Iguazu in Brazil, the Niagara Falls at the border between Canada and the United States and begin to really interrogate whether we are leveraging sufficiently enough with the Victoria Falls to the extent that the Niagara Falls is doing to the economies of Canada and the United States. For example, the Niagara Falls is a $30 billion economy, with 30 million visitors per year. It is an economy within an economy.
Nearer home, the Victoria Falls is one of the Wonders of the World and is the only natural wonder of the world in Africa. Between us and Zambia, we hardly surpass the half a billion-dollar mark in terms of revenue, and visitors between the two states arriving at the Falls do not exceed 1,5 million. So, the gap between what the Niagara is doing in terms of performance and what we are doing is an economic opportunity that we now seek to showcase to the world and say this is going to be the catalyst for investment into the country. The UNWTO has just confirmed that we have received in the last month or so numerous offers that we are busy doing due diligences on; numerous offers that we are interrogating as to their authenticity; numerous offers that we are also assessing as to their national significance, and offers from international capital of individual parcels of between $200 to $300 million. Some are $400 million and so forth, but we are still testing them in terms of their value to the nation before we bring them up for discussion with our superiors and, of course, through the (inter-ministerial) committee that Vice-President Mujuru (Joice) chairs.
There is definitely investment excitement about the general assembly, which will also benefit the hospitality industry that you seem so much to be concerned about. It not yet time to draft them in because discussions have been taking place at a much higher level than at sectoral player level. We think that in the next month their involvement will become a de- facto requirement.
DM: But has there been any demonstrable increase in tourist arrivals so far this year?
And the mere fact that they have all chosen to converge in both our countries of Zimbabwe and Zambia is testimony to the fact that they realise that we are a very competing and upcoming product. We are on a serious rebound. What is actually missing is financial support, which we are now mobilising from other sources.
We don’t just look to fiscus now. In any event, the hospitality industry has always survived by shopping for funds over the counter. We had, however, hoped that since tourism had been identified as one of the four pillars on which economic recovery will be underpinned, we will get some measure of fiscal support to allow our operators to dip their hands into a more competitive fund to retool, re-spruce, re-kit, and the absence of that fund manifested itself more recently in Bulawayo when standards were visibly down. It actually shows you that the sector hasn’t been supported and has been stretched to the limit by the rebound of the sector at a time when there has been no complementary and matching funding to support it.
DM: It seems that many of the local hotels are still struggling to spruce up their facilities despite Government intervention. What has really been the problem and do you think that they will be ready by the time we host the UNWTO General Assembly?
WM: They are not spared the vagaries of this economy. When you talk about distressed industries in Bulawayo, if you don’t include tourism when Matabeleland is the capital of tourism, then it means that our planning is amiss somewhere.
One would hope that we clean up our lenses and try and help those industries that are in situ and have infrastructure and established assets and begin to assist them as much as we are doing other industries such as textile and manufacturing.
But it has to package its case so that it is heard by planners and I am happy that in this country His Excellency decided to create a separate home for it. The results have not been displeasing.
DM: There has been talk of a tourism revolving fund. What is actually happening to this mulled initiative?
We would hope that beyond it, if we had the parcel of money as we appear to be closely getting to, we can then get matching components from banks.
DM: But how big a fund are you looking at?
WM: As I talk to you now, we have an executive director (technical co-operation) from the UNWTO in Masvingo conducting a workshop on the TSA (Tourism Satellite Accounting).
DM: You keep on talking about the UNWTO General Assembly. How are the preparations shaping up? Will Zambia come up with its own chunk of the resources needed for this event? Exactly, how are you co-ordinating it?
Sata — will append their signatures with a host country agreement, which will be witnessed by UNWTO secretary-general on May 28. He will be visiting the country from May 28 and May 30.
Any time between these dates there shall be an appending of signatures to the agreement. Just a week ago, (a fortnight ago) myself and my counterpart, the Zambian minister, signed the bilateral agreement on tourism co-operation as a precursor to the host country agreement.
DM: Are there any figures that are being bandied around as the budget for the whole exercise?
But we will share with the nation these parcels at the appropriate time. Of course, we are running a little bit behind time, but we are dealing with people who are offering their own capital, so we have to make sense in the proposals that we are discussing with them.
However, the minister’s dream is to create a tourism hub in the Victoria Falls. Government has set aside land for the development of a tourism theme park.
The UNWTO General Assembly comes to one country once in every 400 years so it cannot fail to plant legacy projects.
WM: Well, my business is packaging and I can tell you that it is our business as Zimbabweans to positively package our elections. Whilst they mean other things to other people, for us they mean an expression of democracy.
The continued existence of the inclusive Government is now undemocratic because we now have an omnibus government where every part with electoral representation has a say.
However, it has grid-locked decision-making and we don’t seem to be making any traction.
The discordant voice that you sometimes hear about when elections should be held is born out of the fact that some of us might be getting a bit too warm to this current arrangement. It’s like asking turkeys and chickens to vote for more Christmases.
DM: Minister, we want your honest assessment. What does the future hold in terms of the tourism sector in Zimbabwe?
We are noisy, yes, because of our literacy. Unfortunately, this is the area that we need to check as a country. We make so much noise to the point of self-destruction.