The tourism industry is on a recovery path and has managed to maintain steady growth in arrivals over the past five years.
Our Business Reporter Prince Mushawevato (PM) last week had a chat with the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) chief executive, Mr Karikoga Kaseke (KK) over a number of issues.
PM: The ZTA has taken charge of A’sambeni, which runs concurrently with the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF), what is the drive or motive behind the move?
KK: We have rebranded A’sambeni. It was a leisure show basically looking at the domestic and regional market while Sanganai/Hlanganani was a leisure show looking at the domestic, regional and international markets.
We, however, thought this duplication of roles was not helping at all. Having two leisure shows in a single year was not benefitting the country.
So we decided to make A’sambeni a business show where Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing and Exhibitions (Mice) are the emphasis. This development will add value to our objective of destination marketing.
PM: How much business do you intend to generate through the event?
KK: Mice are a very lucrative market, which we have not been putting a lot of effort on. The establishment of our National Convergence Bureau (NCB) has forced us to evaluate our ways of doing business. The NCB, which is a strategic business unit under the ZTA, is now running A’sambeni. We are hoping the event will grow and after sometime, say up to five years, we will then begin to see results. Don’t think results will be seen this year. People who come for business are more likely to spend than people who come for leisure. Leisure travel is when people come here for sightseeing of say our Victoria Falls or other tourist destinations, but incentive travel is financed by companies in reward of good performance of an employee or for business meetings. There are a lot of companies all over the world who sponsor their executives or any other employee to certain destinations for different business reasons and these are the people that we are now targeting under Mice, through A’sambeni.
PM: We understand the 2013 tourism statistics are out. As the ZTA, are you happy with the way the tourism sector performed, which countries did well in terms of arrivals?
KK: Britain, the United Kingdom (UK) (and) Ireland did well in 2013. They registered a 52 percent growth in arrivals compared to 2012. But that 52 percent is still very far away from what we used to receive from the United Kingdom in the 90’s. We are not yet receiving half of the figures. The sector is still in the recovery process and not yet talking of growth because we had lost the market share. The rest of Europe performed well, so did America ranging between 17 and 23 percent arrivals. The development is good for us because these are high spending markets. We should not worry about the quantity of visitors, but quality. We can receive four billion tourists a year, but if they are from the low spending countries, it does not help the destination since they will not boost receipts. The overall percentage increase is two percent. Focus is on the international markets and we must be seen active them but this is not the case due to lack of resources.
PM: What do you attribute the gradual increase in arrivals to?
KK: We have an office that is active in the United Kingdom, which has significantly contributed to this growth. Also we have been very active on the World Travel Market (WTM) that is held annually in London. As an authority, we are very thankful to Ambassador Gabriel Machinga; he was working closely with us on tourism issues that helped boost arrivals. If all ambassadors were doing like him, the recovery process would not take long. People also need to note that arrivals from China have more than tripled because the Zimbabwean Ambassador in China is also doing much in marketing the destination.
PM: Sometime last year, you indicated your unhappiness with the support that was being given to the tourism sector by both Government and financial institutions, has your position changed?
KK: We are still very much concerned about the resources that we are being allocated by the fiscus. They are making it difficult for us to generate business. Last year was not different from this year although it was a bit better, this year it’s worse. We understand that Government does not have money, but, if properly funded, tourism can bring relief to them (Government) in terms of income.
PM: How much do you need to finance your operations?
KK: It is not a secret that Government is facing financial challenges. Against this background, I think it will be better if we get at least US$6 million from them (Government). Initially we had requested for US$35 million which is favourable compared to what our colleagues in the region are getting. The sector needs no less than US$20 million per annum to realise full potential.
PM: Are there changes that you would like to see being effected in the tourism sector?
KK: There is not much that I would want to advocate for, but I think there is need to put a Tourism Revolving Fund (TRF) for players in the division to access so that they renew their facilities and products. There are a lot of products that are now tired and close to dilapidation. Some of the stars (rating) that these facilities have are way above what they actual are. We have, however, told the operators to maintain the minimum standards for the star grades that they have. The issue of the TRF occupies the top three of our priorities. Incentives such as tax exemption on capital goods imports will not work unless the operators have funds to purchase the goods from outside.
PM: Last year, the ZTA embarked on a crackdown of unlicensed tourism operators, how many businesses were affected?
KK: Almost every business was affected. The clean-up is done every year. We are cracking down on unregistered operators. It is illegal in terms of the provisions of the Tourism Act to operate without a license. Before you open doors for any tourism facility, you must register with the authority. Some lawyers are misleading their clients that they can challenge us, which is not possible. We have won every case in which we have been taken to court over the issue, even the Safari Operators challenged us and we went on to win. They should just come and register with us.
PM: A survey conducted by our publication revealed that some hotel and lodge operators that had been ordered to shut down have since re-opened for business without the authority’s approval. What measures are you taking to enforce these enclosures?
KK: We have a team of inspectors that are enforcing the closures and they work with the inspectorate department of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to enforce this piece of legislation. It is true that some unscrupulous operators go on to re-open their business without approval from our office after closure, but that is very bad. We try to engage operators so that they bring their facilities up to scratch before we enforce closure. Closure is a very last resort.
PM: What strategies do you have in place to meet your 2014 set targets?
KK: The Minister of Tourism wants to see a US$5 billion economy by 2018, which is good, but that will only be possible if we get funding. As an authority, we have no lack of ideas on how to market the country and how to increase arrivals. If we wanted to boost arrivals for the sake of increasing the figure, we could easily concentrate on low spending markets (Africa) and within three years we will be having more than three billion tourists. We will not get much from that, probably less than US$100 million. Emphasis should be on the high spending markets. The Asian market is looked down upon, but I would like to inform the public that China is now recognised by the UNWTO as the highest spender in tourism. It has surpassed Germany, which was the highest spender some five years back. Traditional markets are crucial and will never be surrendered. We need visitors from the UK and the United States, we want their money. Our competitors will be very happy if we surrender our markets. It is time to re-engage and we are engaging everyone.
PM: Zimbabwe last year held its inaugural international carnival, which was characterised by both successes and mistakes. What can we expect this time around?
KK: People should expect a tremendous improvement from what they saw last year. What we had that time was a street procession, which we masqueraded as a street party. This year they will be a real street party, whereby people will be partying in the street. Last year people were moved into the street, but that is not how a carnival is done, it should bring people into the street. 23 countries have so far confirmed participating in our carnival and that is history in itself.
PM: Are these events effective in helping the country boost arrivals or they are just events?
KK: Yes, for example we had 14 counties that came for our inaugural carnival and those have gone on to invite other countries that are coming this year. The advance team from Trinidad and Tobago is already in. These events are pull factors. The carnival economy in Brazil is US$3,2 billion (not the overall tourism). If we manage to reach US$300 million, we would have achieved a lot.
PM: A lot has been said with regards to your salary, how much do you get per month?
KK: US$3 700 is my salary, with an additional US$1 000 in housing allowance.
PM: Is it? Are you not considering increasing it?
KK: The board had felt sorry for me and wanted to increase it (salary), but we have no capacity. The authority does not have the ability to pay anything that is reasonable. The salary that I have at the moment is very unreasonable for a chief executive of a tourism board. I cannot compare myself with executives from other parastatals. However, I have a company vehicle, and the authority also pays for my children’s fees of which I’m grateful. Speculation has been that I’m earning US$80 000. Zimra up to date still believes that my I’m on some executive payroll somewhere. If that payroll is found, the nation should not just expect me to resign, I should be hanged.
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