The European Council on Tourism and Trade will today present two awards to President Mugabe in recognition of Zimbabwe’s appeal as a major tourism destination.
The ceremony at a Harare hotel this morning provides further independent affirmation of Zimbabwe as a tourism destination of choice. Zimbabwe was determined to be the 2013 World’s Most Preferred Cultural Destination after successfully co-hosting the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly with Zambia last year.
The ECCT is a private Bucharest, Romania-based organisation with interest in tourism and gives awards to countries annually.
According to its website, it draws together tourism-related organisations from 27 European countries.
The ECCT is not affiliated to the EU, which is a political and economic bloc of mostly Western European countries that have imposed illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe in response to Harare’s revolutionary land reform programme.
ECCT president Professor Anton Caragea, after meeting Vice President Joice Mujuru on Monday, said: “We are a non-governmental organisation and we are nowhere related to Government. We have come here only to praise the culture of Zimbabwe, the tourism legacy, to promote the tourism in Zimbabwe and this is absolutely mandatory.
“We are not interested in politics except politics of friendship, politics of co-operation and collaboration. We have not heard (of) any tourism embargoes. This is a free and perfect tourist destination. Zimbabwe is absolutely a jewel and gem of Africa.”
Established in 2005, the ECCT has given its top tourism award to Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Laos, Trinidad and Tobago, and now Zimbabwe.
The ECCT has praised Zimbabwe’s peaceful environment, natural treasures and cultural legacy, which make it “the perfect African destination”.
When it came to its decision, the ECCT said it would want to present the World’s Best Tourist Destination Award directly to President Mugabe, whom it described as “the most outstanding personality” in Africa.
The non-profit ECCT is largely led by Romanians, who include Prof Caragea who the organisation says on its website is an international relations expert.
Other leading figures in the body are industrialist Mr Nicolae Nicolae, Dr Mircea Constantinescu and Senator Ionel Agrigoroaiei.
Commentators, including the Tourism and Hospitality Industry Ministry, have noted that the independent recognition from the ECCT is reflective of what Zimbabwe has to offer as a tourist destination that is nothing like the war zone some sections of media have tried to portray it as.
Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi, his Sport, Arts and Culture counterpart Andrew Langa, and Zimbabwe Tourism Authority boss Mr Karikoga Kaseke are among VIPs expected to join President Mugabe at today’s award presentation.
Meanwhile, Prof Caragea yesterday led his delegation to the Great Zimbabwe Monuments,a Unesco World Heritage Site.
“There is no doubt that Zimbabwe is one of the world’s best tourism destinations, a country with wonderful and warm people who have very rich cultural riches. Zimbabwe is a very safe and wonderful destination where any visitor will feel at home.
‘’It is very clear that there is now a changing turn on the number of tourist arrivals from Europe and the future looks even bright with the trend pointing to many more international visitors coming to Zimbabwe.’’
Masvingo Provincial Affairs Minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, who accompanied the ECTT delegation to the monuments, said the visit was an endorsement of Zimbabwe as a safe tourism destination.
The delegation also visited Lake Mutirikwi, Zimbabwe’s largest inland dam which was built in the 1960s to irrigate lowveld sugar cane.