ZIMBABWE has been applauded for providing strong leadership in the UNWTO Regional Commission for Africa, and setting the tourism Agenda for mainstreaming in the African Union Agenda 2063. The accolades were showered by various speakers during a meeting of African Tourism Ministers who converged during the 60th Edition of Fitur and Investor in Madrid, Spain. The Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Dr Eng. Walter Mzembi currently in Madrid, Spain, is the UNWTO Regional Commission for Africa (CAF) chairperson, and is leading the Zimbabwe delegation composed of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority chief executive, Mr Karikoga Kaseke and exhibitors.
Zimbabwe was commended for its leadership of CAF, and further applauded for the Minister’s efforts to bring to the fore tourism issues on behalf of Africa. This was said during a briefing of twenty-five African Tourism Ministers, several African Government delegations and international exhibitors that are participating at Fitur and Investors. Dr Mzembi humbly accepted the accolades on behalf of Zimbabwe, while giving feedback on his visit to the African Union in November 2015, where he was mandated by African Tourism Ministers to engage the AU Commission chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, seeking tourism policy consummation, accommodation and institutionalisation to enable mainstreaming of tourism issues at the continental body’s Agenda 2063.
Dr Mzembi informed the meeting that he “sought audience with the AU Commission chairperson at the behest of African Tourism Ministers after realising as a collective that tourism was substantively missing in the AU Agenda 2063, and for the next fifty years, this valuable sector, would be forgotten, yet it is the it is the lowest hanging fruit in Africa’s economic transformation. Being a leading sector in economic development , employment creation, revenue generation and poverty alleviation at the local level, the tourism dollar impacts directly at the household level before finding its way to treasury through a cocktail of taxes levied in its value chain”.
The Minister informed the meeting that under President Mugabe’s chairmanship of the AU, the continental body has witnessed fundamental positive changes in defining a new course in relation to an inclusive development trajectory from industrialisation, value addition and beneficiation, and women empowerment to embracing tourism as an economic pillar. Under President Mugabe, for the first time in history, the continental body is recognising the tourism sector as part of the solution to the challenges facing Africa. The importance of tourism is acknowledged worldwide, and according to the UNWTO, 1 in 11 persons globally, is directly and indirectly engaged in tourism.
During the briefing, Dr Mzembi highlighted that he had received an invitation from the AU Commission chairperson to present tourism issues to the AU Ministerial Retreat in Makele, Ethiopia, that will be the basis for the consummation of tourism policies, policy accommodation and push for consideration to institutionalise tourism at the AU level.
In his briefing paper that was presented to the AU Commission chairperson, Mzembi requested for the creation of a standalone Commission on Tourism, Biodiversity and Aviation within the context of the current restructuring of the continental body. African Tourism Ministers heartily endorsed this proposal.
He implored on his colleagues to make critical policy inputs for a collective position to be presented at the AU. Zimbabwe was full of praises from different countries, thanking President Mugabe’s Presidency of the AU highlighting that under his leadership, tourism is now being embraced. “We want to congratulate our CAF chairperson. But most importantly, we want to thank the President of Zimbabwe for appointing for us this minister, and above all, his leadership of the African Union that has seen this very important sector being recognised for the first time” said Ghana’s Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts Minister, Mrs Elizabeth Ofosu-Adjare.
“You have done us proud and a good job in delivering what we have been waiting for so long. We support you and want to see an additional commission established to superintend our tourism sector, biodiversity and aviation issues as they are interconnected to the tourism economy. You have our blessings-go ahead” said the Tourism Minister from Seychelles, Hon St Ange.
“We are proud of your efforts and as Zambia, we support you. We want a full commission for our sector, and once we bring food on the table, we will then decide how to share it. Minister, you are our frontman and we support you” emphasised Mr Steven Mwansa, the Permanent Secretary for Tourism and Arts of Zambia who spoke on behalf of his minister, Hon Jean Kapata.
During discussions, the Ministers and Government delegations unanimously mandated Hon Mzembi to present their wish list that covers an array of issues to the Ministerial Retreat, including seeking policy accommodation and institutionalisation of tourism by way of a substantive commission through which tourism will be supported at policy level by the AU.
Chief among the issues raised was continental brand construction and its promotion of green tourism through encouraging and adopting sustainable energy use, and environmental sustainability. The ministers reiterated the importance of seamless travel through improved visa openness and visa relaxation by eliminating visa restriction within and outside Africa. Others implored on the minister to present the issue of Open Skies through implementation of the 1998 Yamoussoukro Declaration. The importance of exploiting and accelerating ICT-based tourism promotion also came under spotlight. The ministers agreed that the continent invest in ICT as the new frontier revolutionising tourism and trade. Facilitating tourism entrepreneurship and innovation via Community Based Tourism Enterprises (CBTEs) for women and youth empowerment was identified as key in poverty reduction and elimination in line with the SDGs.
The ministers recommended that a clear capacity building policy consummation should be addressed to the Ministerial Retreat, seeking obviously to improve on common continental standards in product quality and providing cutting-edge service so that African destinations can be competitive.
More importantly, acceleration of tourism infrastructure development and investment, was highlighted as key enabler in order to increase the stocks of tourism assets and broaden revenue base in different countries. The ministers said that tourism should be given both policy and institutional space to enable robust policy discourse at the continental level, to grow the tourism cake which the AU has identified as a taxable sector. However, they regretted that it is not fully captured in Agenda 2063.
Thus, the value proposition they are putting forward seeks to correct this anomaly, and at the same time, places on the table, an agenda for tourism that will see not only the transformation of the sector, but improve on its positive impact and enhance economic performance in Africa. The accolades showered on Zimbabwe’s leadership excellence comes at a time when the President recently handed over the SADC chair to Botswana in August 2015, and he has led the African Union so expertly that Zimbabwe is now the envy of many in terms of pragmatic leadership at regional, continental and international level.
This comes at a time when the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has ranked Zimbabwe as one of the top 30 countries that have made significant efforts to reduce travel restrictions and allow free movement of tourists in the past seven years. In its 2015 Visa Openness Report released last week, the 157-member UNWTO ranked Zimbabwe number 29 out of the top 54 member countries deemed to have made significant progress in relaxing tourist restrictions. “Overall, 54 destinations significantly facilitated travel for citizens of 30 or more countries by changing their visa policies from visa required to E-Visa, visa on arrival, or no visa required,” the UNWTO said.
Zimbabwe and Zambia implemented the KAZA Univisa Pilot Project at the directive of President Robert Mugabe and the late President of Zambia Mr Michael Sata, who in their collective, said that the seamless movement of people that prevailed during the 2013 UNWTO General Assembly, be the norm rather than an exception. It is after this Presidential directive that the two countries implemented the Pilot Project with the support from the World Bank. The project is now going to be rolled out to include Angola, Botswana and Namibia in its second phase of implementation. However, some lower level bureaucrats from both countries have been reported of having attempted to collapse the sacred project by Presidential directive. This bureaucratic self-opinionating and bravado is not helpful, especially to a region that is doing well in regional integration. It must be nipped in the bud.
The grand idea is to end up with a SADC visa. These initiatives are captured in the SADC Agenda to facilitate sustainable trade business, promote free movement of people and regional integration.
“I am happy that Africa is making progress. The global tourism fraternity is confident in us providing leadership as a country in this important sector. I accept to serve, and am happy to lead this initiative with everyone’s support” said Dr Mzembi.