|‘It’s time to position Zim’|
|Saturday, 12 May 2012 00:00|
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation has sent its technical executive director Dr Harsha Varma (HV) to help Zimbabwe establish Satelite Accounting Systems and a tourism masterplan ahead of the 2013 UNWTO general assembly. Our Features Editor Isdore Guvamombe (IG) talks to him about this and other issues
IG: Dr Varma what brings you to Zimbabwe?
As introduced, we are already actively co-operating with the Regional Tourism Organisation for Southern Africa, Retosa and we are jointly implementing a number of programmes and projects for the development and promotion of tourism in Southern Africa. And as part of this partnership we have taken up the streamlining of tourism statistics of the Retosa member states — 13 states are members, plus about the establishment of a Tourism Satellite Account (TSA).
IG: What is the importance of TSA in a country like Zimbabwe?
But tourism, is also a very strong engine for social and economic development. And, therefore, we feel as a world organisation it is our responsibility to assist our member states and Zimbabwe is a member. Zimbabwe is also represented on our executive council, which is the highest policy making body of the organisation, for governments to realise and appreciate the real significance of tourism and give it the kind of priority that it deserves in the overall scheme of things of a government or country.
So, we are very grateful to Zimbabwe because the country hosted the first workshop — a very intensive, a very technical workshop in Victoria Falls last year. There is a second workshop, which is currently going on. I came to Harare to hold some discussions with Minister (Walter Mzembi) and also to consult some of my UN colleagues who are based here about the tourism masterplan.
The second part of my visit is to formulate a long-term tourism development masterplan for Zimbabwe. We have taken this initiative at the insistence of the honourable minister who has been really active in the UNWTO fora. He has played a very positive role and constructive role in the affairs of the organisation and it was in recognition of this role that Zimbabwe was elected to our executive council, which is a big achievement.
IG: What is the Minister’s plan?
Now, the idea of the masterplan is that we should develop a long term framework for the development and promotion of tourism in the country — the big picture over the next 15 to 20 years.
IG: What difference will the masterplan bring?
The honourable minister and his very efficient team have already formulated a tourism development policy, a policy that is currently awaiting the approval of the other ministers. On the basis of the major elements of the country’s tourism policy what we are going to do is to come up with a long-term strategy, a strategy, which will be in various areas of tourism. For example in planning and development, marketing and promotion, human resource development, sustainable development, operations and management, among others.
We are also going to look at the tourism legislation and regulation of the country. For instance, how the ministry regulates the industry and also what kind of public-private sector partnerships should be there. Because ultimately it is the private sector which has to operate and manage the sector on a day to day basis.
We have been involved in various projects and programmes in this part of Africa — we have the dictionary of all the countries that like to be in the field of tourism — and one peculiar, which you will find in Southern Africa is the phenomena of product similarity. So, you will find eight or 10 countries in Southern Africa offering the same product to the same market and to the same market segment. My role through the masterplan is to make Zimbabwe different, unique and stand out as a destination compared to other competing destinations in then region.
We want to create a brand Zimbabwe, which will be acceptable to tour operators, travel agents, consumers in the various markets and segments within this market. Now, if you look at the profile — I have spent 38 years in the field of tourism — I can say with confidence that I have seen very few countries and destinations in the world which have the same resources as Zimbabwe: excellent resources, nature, culture, history, folklore, cuisine and above all a very warm and hospitable people.
Now you put it all together in the melting pot, shake it well and you will come up with a mighty and attractive tourism product which has the potential to appeal to every age, every pocket and every taste anywhere in the world. A special effort will be made in the direction of attracting Foreign Direct Investment in tourism related projects in the country. Once we have come up with the framework of an investment policy, our endeavour is to join hands with the ministry and hold an investors forum so that investors from different parts of the world can come and see for themselves where to invest, how to invest and which activity to invest in.
As for the UNWTO general assembly, Zimbabwe has to put its best foot forward because the member states will come, the media will come and we would like to showcase Zimbabwe before the international tourism community. If I were the minister of tourism, I would be moving around to convey the message that Zimbabwe is ready.
The minister will be elected in his capacity as the host country ministry as the president of the general assembly, an office that he will hold for the next two years. He will pass on the baton in 2015. But the important thing is between now and July 2013, I would like to see the honourable minister travelling around the world for very serious business.
IG: I know Zimbabwe is interested in inviting the Chinese to the country; what can Zimbabwe offer a Chinese tourist and is the country ready to host the Chinese visitor?
generating market. I have been working for Chinese tourism for the last 27 years and we all realise the significance of that market. Now, what we are going to do as part of the masterplan is that when we are going to have our planning, development and marketing strategy, we are not only going to look at China as a very specific market, we going to look and other important markets as well.
We all know that most of the destinations are looking forward to welcoming Chinese tourists and you have to prepare yourself to cater to their specificialised tastes. It is not only hotels, but Chinese websites, Chinese speaking guides and safety and security.
IG: What are the real specifics the Chinese worry about?
IG: Dr Varma, I understand you have been involved with the establishment of the TSA. How long will it take to complete the system?
Even when the TSA is established it has to undergo certain tests and checks on whether it is conforming to the norms or not.