Opening Zimbabwe up for business

Dr Misheck Sibanda
Last Thursday, the Office of the President and Cabinet organised a stakeholders’ workshop on the ease of doing business in the tourism and enabler sectors. Chief Secretary Dr Misheck Sibanda gave key indicators on the direction Government is taking to smooth Zimbabwe’s business environment. We publish excerpts of Dr Sibanda’s presentation.

It is indeed an honour for me to address key stakeholders who have gathered here for a crucial discourse on issues that are affecting the smooth growth of the tourism and enabling sectors in Zimbabwe with the main objective of employing the Ease of Doing Business reforms underpinned by the Rapid Results Approach (RRA), which Government has fully adopted as a mechanism to quickly improve business operations and the investment climate in Zimbabwe.

Tourism is one area that Zimbabwe’s comparative advantages are nestled in and has the potential to promote sustainable development if its economic and social attributes are fully exploited and beneflciated.

Undoubtedly, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation clearly articulates and postulates tourism as one of the key anchors of spurring economic growth and empowerment of the people through creation of industries and employment, generation of foreign earnings and stimulation of domestic consumption.

The priority sector recognition of tourism is ably amplified by the signing of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation Golden Book on Tourism by His Excellency, President RG Mugabe in May 2012, in Victoria Falls.

This gesture by our Head of State signifies the highest global commitment by governments the world over to the development of sustainable tourism.

It pitches high Government’s support to tourism development as a vehicle for the empowerment of our people.

Additionally, tourism is one endowment that has a unique identity as it is engendered and derives its socio-economic meaning from the diverse environment, history, cultural norms and artifacts of a country, hence it can also be uniquely packaged and branded for a country’s competitive advantages.

Zimbabwe in particular and Africa in general are immensely gifted with a balance sheet of tourism assets that comprise pristine flora, hospitable climate and wildlife; ready for leveraging to benefit Government, business and poor communities for posterity.

This, therefore, makes tourism one of Africa’s low hanging fruits ready to be harvested, valued added and beneficiated for economic growth and sustainable development.

In view of this, Government, working in collaboration with the tourism sector, has set an ambitious goal to achieve a US$5 billion revenue target on the basis of five million arrivals and 15 percent contribution to GDP.

Currently, the tourism sector is contributing US$1 billion in revenue on the basis of two million arrivals and a GDP contribution of 11 percent.

To achieve this target, a cocktail of measures has already been put in place by the Government to promote the development of the tourism sector.

This includes, among others, the crafting of a National Tourism Policy to ensure that tourism growth is guided by a robust enabling framework.

Furthermore, Government is also identifying more growth opportunities through the National Tourism Master Plan, which is currently being finalised.

As you may all recall, in March 2016, Zimbabwe introduced a new visa regime which saw a number of countries such as China being moved from category C to Category B, thus allowing their nationals to apply for visas at points of entry.

I am delighted that preliminary half-year reports to June 2016 by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority indicate that Zimbabwe received 902 435 tourists compared to 930 277 in 2015.

Although this figure represents a marginal decline in arrivals, what is noteworthy is the increase in Chinese tourists by 32 percent, which in itself is an affirmation of the positive steps taken to revise the visa regime.

Government will thus continue to review the legislative and regulatory environment affecting the tourism sector to allow for the increase in its growth and competitiveness.

However, despite a lot of effort having been invested by the Government in the tourism and enabling sectors since independence, in terms of, for instance, improving accessibility of destination, image building, human skills and knowledge development and other regulatory measures, a lot still needs to be done to restore the country’s attractiveness and competitiveness.

A multi-pronged and robustly implementable strategy has to be put in place to accelerate the consumption and development of tourism products and services.

As we all know, the tourism sector is currently facing a lot of challenges that today’s workshop should analyse and come up with an implementable action plan that will be tackled within the Ease of Doing Business Reform structure, using the RRA methodology.

These challenges and the measures that Government has so far undertaken to address them will now be highlighted.

It is also an opportunity to review the efficacy of the current strategies being implemented with the view of strengthening them under Ease of Doing Business Reform measures.

On the pricing front, Zimbabwe’s tourism products are generally over-priced in the context of fierce regional competition, hence affecting the industry’s viability and growth.

Some tourism operators are still utilising the Zim dollar pricing model despite changes in economic fundamentals such as low inflation and current stable prices.

Despite the upgrading that was done to most of our airports, the majority of the country’s tourist destinations remain inaccessible by airlines and the situation is further exacerbated by the poor state of the roads in some areas that lead to tourist destinations.

For instance, since Air Zimbabwe stopped flights to Kariba, the average hotel occupancy rates in Kariba as at June 2016 have plummeted to below 10 percent.

This means that our national Airline, Air Zimbabwe, has a critical role to play not only in linking Zimbabwe with our overseas markets, but also in facilitating the internal movement of tourists.

If one looks at the success story of the South African tourism industry, it is spurred by the national airline, the South African Airways, which is arguably one of the most visible regional airlines that fly to most destinations in the world.

In terms of road infrastructure, I am delighted that Government completed the rehabilitation and widening of the Plumtree-Mutare highway and has already concluded the co-operation framework for the dualisation of the Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu Highway.

This will indeed be a positive development for trade and travel along the South-North Corridor.

Government will, therefore, double up its efforts to mobilise resources for the maintenance of roads which feed into tourism resorts with some in a bad state as earlier on explained.

The state of roads is further compounded by poor and non-existing signage and lack of stop-over areas with supporting amenities.

To protect our tourist endowments and visitors, Government introduced Tourism Police Units in various tourism resorts particularly in Victoria Falls, where the initiative has been supported and well received by tourism sector players.

It is, therefore, imperative to revamp this noble idea and replicate it in all our tourism resorts.

Furthermore, being cognisant of the need to guarantee safety and security on our roads, Government has continued to mount roadblocks on our highways.

However, clients and stakeholders in the sector have also complained about the number of roadblocks encountered on roads leading to tourist destinations as they argue that the frequency of police roadblocks on our highways should facilitate rather than impede movement of tourists.

Cabinet has already provided guidance on this matter.

In terms of marketing, the focus has been highly skewed towards promoting the Victoria Falls at the expense of other tourist destinations and this has undoubtedly affected the growth of the industry.

It is, therefore, prudent that a comprehensive marketing strategy be developed to cover all tourist endowments both natural and man-made.

Government has for the past 12 months been implementing the Ease of Doing Business Reforms geared at addressing the various legislative and regulatory bottlenecks that were affecting the investment climate in Zimbabwe.

Similarly, the tourism and enabling sectors have also challenges in terms of high regulations.

In this area, empirical evidence reveals that operating licences are not considered a major issue in the tourism sector.

However, the cumbersome procedures involve the duplication of regulatory requirements from various Government agencies, for instance Health Inspection and Environmental Management Agency processes.

The EMA development approval fees are considered to be the most prohibitive charges in the sector. Going forward, it is incumbent upon the sector to work with Government on how to harmonise and streamline the different and multiple fees and charges levied on the players.

Another example that is being cited as prohibitive is the charging of TV/radio licences per room/set regardless of occupancy, which will be passed on to the consumers of tourism products in the form of high prices.

In countries such as South Africa, domestic tourism has underpinned the development of the sector by sustainably providing the stewardship of last resort role when foreign tourist figures drop.

Going forward, we need to implement a robust and viable domestic tourism strategic framework to tap into the local market.

This will allow Zimbabweans to visit tourist resorts not for conferencing, but largely for leisure and other hospitable opportunities.

Furthermore, the development of domestic tourism is not only anchored on patronage, but on a deliberate strategy to also empower the people to grab opportunities in the sector and establish their own businesses.

This is very possible here in Zimbabwe, if the Government, communities, private sector and other development partners work together collaboratively to fully capitalise on Zimbabwe’s literacy and youth dividends.

The situation at our ports of entry, particularly at Beitbridge Border Post, chief among them, the ambience of our facilities and the service levels and conduct of border officials also needs further improvement.

Reports of rent-seeking behaviour and harassment of the travelling public are rampant amid calls for the modernisation of our border posts.

The ongoing reorganisation of the Beitbridge Border Post to re-create functional green routes, curb corruption and decongest the ports of entry is a positive development instituted by the Government.

Government has also approved the establishment of a Ports Authority to ensure that there is order at ports of entry.

In terms of branding and image building, most tourism players have not been able to observe normal refurbishment cycles and yet these image building strategies are critical to ensure that tourism products are kept at international quality standards.

The issues of facilities presentability and ambience are pertinent factors in the sector that need greater attention considering that these are strong determinants in a tourist’s psychology when choosing a destination and place to visit.

All these issues require Government to facilitate financing mechanisms such as the Tourism Revolving Fund at an affordable cost. Over the last few years, Government has also provided duty exemptions for the importation of safari vehicles and capital goods for use in the hospitality sector.

This positive development has seen a number of players notably in Harare and Victoria Falls embarking on massive refurbishments and product revitalisation.

Government is also encouraging the use of plastic money for payment of tourist products and services given the short-term situation of cash shortages.

The issue of international cards which adversely limit tourism expenditure in most resort areas will also need to be addressed. This includes the promotion of the use of other currencies in the basket of currencies such as the rand as per monetary policy.

This workshop has come on the backdrop of a regime on the Ease of Doing Business Reforms having been successfully implemented to improve the investment climate in Zimbabwe.

This workshop is expected to come up with specific implementable actions under the Ease of Doing Business reforms to facilitate the growth of the tourism sector.

In July 2016, a similar workshop was also convened for the Transport Operators Association of Zimbabwe to frankly discuss issues that were affecting business operators in the sector.

As I am speaking now, Government and stakeholders in the transport sector are already implementing the Ease of Doing Business Reforms underpinned by the RRA in order to address the incumbent challenges.

Similarly, it is my profound hope that the challenges from this workshop will be addressed in a similar fashion to also holistically and realistically address various challenges that are affecting the tourism sector in Zimbabwe, and reposition it to be the key pillar of economic growth and development.

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