THE unimaginable is happening at the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority.
For the first time in 35 years Zimbabwe will not be hosting the annual Sanganai/Hlanganani Travel Expo. The news gets worse.
The Sunday Mail Leisure has also established that the Harare International Carnival has suffered a natural death.
ZTA chief executive Karikoga Kaseke confirmed these developments in an exclusive interview with us last week.
He said they pulled the plug on two of their major shows, the Carnival and Sanganai/Hlanganani, due to a serious funding crisis. Sanganai/Hlanganani was launched in 1982.
The fair is the successor of Shanyai/Vakatshani, the Zimbabwe International Travel Expo that was held annually at the Harare International Conference Centre.
Any nation that considers tourism an important component of its economy has a tourism fair and a carnival of some sort, but Zimbabwe will this year not have any even as Government tries to build tourism as a key economic pillar.
All leading tourism destinations in the world like Brazil, The Seychelles and South Africa have fairs and carnivals that keep people interested in what they have to offer to travellers.
The ZTA initially threatened to drop the carnival in 2015 but went on to host the event later that year. However, the event completely failed to take place last year.
The Harare International Carnival dates were shifted several times in the period in question. Initially, the fete was supposed to be held around May. However, the carnival was moved to September.
September came, but the event was moved yet again to October before being moved to December 2016.
Lack of funding and the need to accommodate both local and foreign participants were given as reasons for the shifts.
However, information at hand shows a mountain of debt going back to 2013 when the carnival was launched is the reason why the ZTA has decided to kill it off.
Kaseke confirmed that the three editions of the carnival since 2013, including Sanganai/Hlanganani, returned losses for the ZTA.
The ZTA boss said things had not gone according to plan hence drastic action had to be taken.
“Definitely there is no carnival this year because of lack of funds. Rather, we have since dropped the carnival from our programmes. Sanganai will also not be held this year for the first time since it started in 1982. I’m not going to commit to Sanganai like we did last year when we still owe service providers about US$150 000,” said a dejected Kaseke.
Initially, the tourism authority had planned to have Sanganai/Hlanganani run from June 8 to June 10 in Bulawayo.
ZTA head of corporate affairs Sugar Chagonda said, “The whole idea was to have Sanganai and the carnival steering economic activities but if we are not doing so then the events are not serving their purpose hence the need to stop them until we get resources to pay everyone we owe.”
Zimbabwe borrowed the carnival concept from countries like Brazil, The Seychelles, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, where such events are big business, earning millions of dollars annually.
Sanganai/Hlanganani is the equivalent of South Africa’s annual Tourism Indaba that brings in millions of rands through hordes of visitors.
“Sanganai has been doing well for this tourism economy. Because of it we kept the buyers and sellers in the region and internationally on their toes as they kept on interacting. But if there are no funds there is nothing we can do. National tourism organisations are all funded 100 percent by Government,” added Kaseke.
“The Minister of Finance acknowledges tourism is doing well but that does not happen automatically.
“Tourism can contribute three times more than it is currently doing if it’s funded. We understand Government is in a financial quandary and we don’t blame them. But what we are saying is give us money and we will help you generate more.”
It is reported that one of the three editions of the carnival cost ZTA close to US$900 000, with Government availing US$50 000 of the US$200 000 it had promised.
A huge chunk of the funds from Treasury were used to host visitors, covering their accommodation, meals and air fares.
“I’m not prepared to have the embarrassment that I’m in right now yet again for failing to pay the suppliers for services rendered.
“The suppliers supplied in good faith and up to now we have not paid them. It is like we went there to deliberately cheat them,” said Kaseke.
About US$750 000 is required to settle the debt and possibly organise another edition of Sanganai.
“However, the ZTA chief executive said it was too late for them to start organising an edition for 2017 even if funds were availed.
“We need time to plan, be it for Sanganai or the Carnival, and this involves sending invites so that buyers plan their itinerary in advance. A miracle of having the event this year will mean that we get the full money we need not later than April.
“This time around I’m not committing without full funding.
“Last year Treasury promised us US$500 000 but instead gave us US$250 000. This has been the case over the years and it left us with a huge debt. We owe everyone, including international organisations,” revealed Kaseke.
Last year, the South African government gave their national tourism board R130 million for international marketing alone.
“And a couple of weeks back, the country’s treasury announced a disbursement of another R500 million to the same board.
“We are not asking to be funded to the tune the South African government is funding their tourism authority but we are asking to be funded to our own level,” pleaded Kaseke.
ZTA is targeting five million tourist arrivals by 2020.
But this, Kaseke noted, would not be possible if crucial events like Sanganai and the Carnival were not playing the roles they should be.
The last Carnival attracted 50 000 visitors.
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