The Sunday Mail
Prince Mushawevato recently in Bulawayo
COULD the just ended 10th edition of Sanganai/Hlanganani Travel Expo held in Bulawayo be the defining moment for Zimbabwe tourism?
Tourism pundits opine full implementation of proposals made by Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa will result in the tourism sector going on a growth trajectory for the first time in over a decade.
The tourism sector has since 2009 been on a recovery path that, however, is being hindered by numerous obstacles, chief among them inadequate funding and unfavourable industry policies.
Growth statistics, particularly in arrivals and the national average hotel room occupancy, registered thus far are just market reclaim efforts. Zimbabwe’s tourism high was last recorded before the turn of the new millennium. The figures are still to be matched especially from traditional source markets like America and the United Kingdom.
For instance, arrivals in Zimbabwe are this year estimated by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) to reach over 2,2 million and over 2,5 million in 2020. Conversely, statistics from periods before 2009 show annual arrival figures floated way above two million.
Officially opening this year’s edition of Sanganai/Hlanganani, Minister Chinamasa said tourism has potential to generate quick wins for the country ahead of sectors like mining, agriculture and manufacturing if adequately supported.
Besides ordinary tourists are potential investors for other sectors of the economy. The tourism sector contributes 11 percent to Gross Domestic Product.
“If we failed in the past, it is because we did not understand you. We now understand you. We will do everything in our power to meet halfway,” declared Minister Chinamasa.
“Tourism is a critically important sector for Zimbabwe for various reasons. It is against this background that the Government of Zimbabwe has been introducing supportive policies in order to grow the industry.”
Some of the proposals made include the introduction of a tourism revolving fund, waiving navigation and landing fees to lure new airlines into the destination and the rebranding of undervalued national tourism assets such as museums and monuments.
Minister Chinamasa also wants to increase promotion and marketing budget for ZTA’s promotional programmes, extend Statutory Instrument (SI) 105 of 2017 and SI 146 of 2016 by another year through the 2018 National Budget, create a Special Tourism Economic Zone among other measures.
However, past efforts by the Treasury to introduce the tourism revolving fund hit a snag. ZTA chief executive Dr Karikoga Kaseke believes the sector is for the first time “set for a take-off”.
“We cannot talk of growth without first regaining our lost market share. The little resources that we have received to date have only helped us make strides in our recapture effort,” said Dr Kaseke.
“Minister Chinamasa’s speech was powerful and clearly marks a turnaround for our tourism. He is a man of his word and made proposals that I’m certain will for the first time ignite actual growth in the sector.”
A Hwange-based safari tour operator weighed in: “The minister’s proposals are appealing. The enactment will obliterate most, if not all of our challenges.”
This year’s Sanganai/Hlanganani had 350 registered exhibitors compared to 236 last year. Of the exhibitors, 150 were from Bulawayo. There was also a growth in first-time participants to 85 exhibitors from 54 companies last year. There were 224 international buyers and 29 foreign exhibitors.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe Council of Tourism chief executive officer Mr Paul Matamisa says preparations for the next edition of the expo should commence forthwith. This, he said, will help create adequate awareness among the public.
Few people visited exhibition halls last Sunday, a day designated for the public to come.
“There is growth in terms of exhibitors and buyers. The only disappointing area is the participation of the public. We would have loved to see the place filled up with the people of Zimbabwe coming to see what tourism is about,” said Matamisa.
Sanganai/Hlanganani programmes like the now dropped Tourism Night Gig played a major role in connecting the general public with buyers and exhibitors. The general feeling within the public is the expo is a business to business exchange that has no room for them.