Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi’s call for the media to play a critical role in marketing the country as a safe destination for tourists is most welcome. Minister Mzembi was speaking at a national editors’ nation branding workshop organised by the Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum last week. While we agree with him about the media’s role in tourism, we are of the view that the ball still lies in Government’s court, especially his ministry, to ensure deliberate effort is taken to lure tourists.
There are a number of areas that need attention by Minister Mzembi’s ministry.
While we acknowledge that the country has fairly developed tourism infrastructure, new investments are necessary to spruce up the standards of the facilities and come up with fresh ones where necessary.
It is a fact that some of the country’s tourist destinations are underdeveloped and there is no deliberate effort to ensure they are spruced up to the level of attracting tourists.
This fact is acknowledged in the National Tourism Policy that was enunciated by Minister Mzembi’s ministry in 2014.
In fact, the ministry calls such destinations “dilapidated tourism facilities”, which are in need of refurbishment.
We note Government efforts in rehabilitating Victoria Falls International Airport to world-class standards.
But lessons learnt from that effort, especially the increase in international airlines landing at the new airport, should be enough to open our eyes to opportunities that arise if our infrastructure is up to scratch.
A number of tourist destinations in Zimbabwe are not linked to any tourism source market by air.
Imagine the number of tourists that would flock to the Eastern Highlands if the destination had an upgraded airport, or even those who would opt for Great Zimbabwe.
The thought of travelling hundreds of kilometres by road to a particular tourist destination after landing in Harare is enough to upset prospective tourists.
Most developed countries have made billions of dollars through investing in tourism.
We cannot expect to attract tourists to the level that we want without us prioritising the sector for investment.
This means that the media’s campaigns will be futile if certain issues affecting the tourism industry are not put right.
Our over-reliance on traditional tourism source markets has also been our major undoing.
We were getting used to receiving thousands of tourists from countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Australia, Netherlands and South Africa.
When governments from most of these countries branded Zimbabwe an unsafe destination in protest against land reform process at the turn of the millennium, many tourists lost the appetite to visit.
We applaud Minister Mzembi’s ministry for opening up new source markets like China and Japan.
But more needs to be done to ensure that the country is adequately marketed in the new destinations, whose travellers have their own expectations.
Minister Mzembi’s ministry should be creating documentaries in conjunction with media in the new source markets, which would be used to promote the country to prospective tourists.
We might be surprised to learn that very few Chinese tourists know that Zimbabwe has abundant wildlife, just like in Kenya and Tanzania, the two countries many of them seem to be familiar with.
We appreciate that tourism is one of the key economic drivers in Zimbabwe and is contributing at least 10 percent to the GDP.
This figure can increase drastically if we put more effort in making our destination more attractive.