Judgment Night 3 . . . Religious tourism assumes new level

UFIC members march on the streets of Harare last Sunday

UFIC members march on the streets of Harare last Sunday

Victoria Ruzvidzo Business Focus

We commend President Mugabe for his State of the Nation address to Parliament on Tuesday.

Indeed it was easy to discern that he is seized with the economy and sought to come up with measures to re-energise the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation and other complementary efforts to reinvigorate the economy.

From the board chairman to the ordinary man in the street, we are all concerned about the deteriorating economic environment and we hope the pronouncements by the President will be executed with the speed and precision required to rescue the economy. The 10-point plan has immense potential to do the trick for this economy.

Zimbabwe is endowed with natural resources that should be exploited to the nation’s benefit while those working against the grain in terms of rebuilding the economy should be stopped in their tracks.

President Mugabe mentioned most of the areas that should help the economy to recover. Tourism has emerged as one of the sectors on which economic recovery is anchored. Predictions are that by 2018 this sector should earn at least $5 billion annually while contributing 15 percent to the Gross Domestic Product.

These are not far-fetched targets. The potential for the sector to grow in leaps and bounds is high, barring challenges in the global economy. In fact, trends show that people resort to travelling as a form of relief from any challenges back home and always save for that special treat at the destination of their choice.

The President said tourism was one of the sectors that would attain positive growth this year.

“The tourism sector continues to experience growth and development and is set to grow by more than five percent this year, reflecting growth in confidence in Zimbabwe as a peaceful tourism destination. Tourism is mainly being driven by our rich climatic, natural and man-made attractions as well as the peaceful environment prevailing in the country.

“Current interventions on marketing, relaxing the visa regime, investment in tourism and other related infrastructure, and the promotion of the ‘open skies policy’ should see the sector making further growth,” said President Mugabe.

For Zimbabwe, one aspect of tourism – religious tourism has shown immense potential for growth, particularly in the last three years. Globally, religious tourism has become a multi-billion dollar industry, recording more than 300 million travellers annually.

Many economies have benefited from this form of tourism as more and more people travel worldwide for religious reasons. This special category of tourism is growing consistently and Zimbabwe is not doing badly.

One such religious event that stands out in this country is Judgment Night, now in its third edition. Hosted by United Family International Church Founder Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa, the event brings together about 180 000 people from Zimbabwe and other parts of the globe as they come to witness and experience the power of God through His Servant Prophet Makandiwa.

This event now ranks highly among religious events that travellers now plan for on their annual diary. Even the Minister of Tourism Walter Mzembi has acknowledged that the sector has enjoyed brisk business around the time Judgment Night is held. In fact, UFIC receives international visitors from China, New Zealand, Australia, Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, Kenya and many others even for weekly services and healing sessions that are held at least once a month. These people book in hotels and spend an average of $500 per visit.

In Zimbabwe other religious travels include visits to the Zaoga Prayer Mountain in Bindura, The ZCC Mbungo annual conference in Masvingo and other sites and events that attract thousands of travellers.

This year’s event, Judgement Night 3, will be held tomorrow and already international visitors have started arriving. Many have been flocking into the country over the past fortnight. At least 12 000 visitors from abroad are expected to attend the event while thousands of Zimbabweans from all corners of the country are expected to converge at the giant National Sports Stadium.

The recent death of Cecil the Lion is believed to have put a damper on the local tourism industry as wild life activists attacked this country and blamed the Government for the lion’s death. However, Judgment Night 3 has brought back the positive currents that Zimbabwe is known for as a tourist destination.

Research has shown that religious or faith based tourism was actually the first form of tourism through pilgrims held centuries ago and in recent years this form of travel has gathered momentum.

“Tourism and travel professionals should be aware that this market might well double by 2020. To add to this number many faith based travellers prefer to travel in groups rather than individuals,” said a journal.

Estimates are that in the United States alone, at least 25 percent of the travelling public is interested in faith based tourism. With many travelling for conventions and other religious activities.

Israel is the number one preference of western-based faith travellers, followed by Italy and England.

“Because faith-based travellers are committed travellers they tend to save for these religious or spiritual experiences and travel despite the state of the economy,” added the journal.

“Almost since the dawn of history human beings have travelled to holy sites. By the biblical period important religious centres had become not only a part of the cultural landscape, but they also had become major players in local marketing and important parts of the economy of those cities that hosted religious centres.

“In the Western world, cities such as Jerusalem, Rome and Mecca continue to attract millions of visitors on a yearly basis. Religious-oriented travel then has occurred since the first pilgrimages. In recent years, however, religious travel and tourism has developed into a much larger and more segmented market,” it said.

This, therefore, means that the local tourism sector needs to pay particular interest and ensure the needs of religious or faith-based tourists are met. With at least 2 billion people said to be Christians, Zimbabwe will soon claim a larger chunk of these through such events as Judgment Night.

The National Sports Stadium is filled to be brim with other make-shifts arenas created round the giant facility to accommodate people coming for Judgment Night.

Many of these people come days before and stay more days after the Judgment Night thus benefiting the economy even more. Such low-hanging fruits need to be harnessed and harvested as they contribute significantly to the GDP.

In God I Trust!

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