The year is 2006 and it is about 4pm in Harare, and for those in journalism that is the time of the day when news stories fly up and about the newsroom as editors account for the day’s work before the paper goes to bed.
Amid the gritty chit-chat of keyboards and hullabaloo of The Herald newsroom, I receive a phone call from Annah Moyo, the corporate communications manager of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), and it is inviting me to the National Tourism Awards.
I said the invitation was rather too late, but she insisted I should pop up even for a few minutes.
Karikoga Kaseke had just settled at the authority as chief executive and was too combative for many and sent shivers down the spines of his inept workers.
She could not account for my absence if I did not attend.
The maverick chief would not brook that nonsense for Annah.
I could hear her voice exude fear from the other end of the phone. Reluctantly, I found my way to the venue.
There I was, in a small theatre room in Avondale, Harare, where a small group of people gathered for the national tourism awards, sponsored by ZTA.
It was not a top-notch event, but all the same, I scooped the second runner-up from I can’t remember who from ZBC. Not prepared for the event, I was shocked by two things. Firstly, the media was treated as one entity, and I wondered how electronic and print media competed in storytelling.
There was no social media then.
Secondly, I was not sure what criteria was used. Of course, there were many other categories that had nothing to do with the media. All the same, it was a good beginning.
The awards brought smiles to many and made a statement that ZTA was willing to honour those individuals and companies that contributed to the well-being and growth of the industry.
The awards were to improve by each year as KK, (as Karikoga Kaseke was known) got settled, rounded and refined the awards. The media categories were then separated. I was to scoop the Tourism Writer of the Year Award for six consecutive years.
In the seventh year, I won the big one, the Tourism Personality of the Year 2013, and that was the last year ZTA held those awards. Today, I remain the undisputed holder of that award.
If it wasn’t for fear of claiming bragging rights, I would have told you that I remain the only journalist to have won it against Chipo Mutasa and Philip Chiyangwa, among others. Let me leave it here for now.
Last week, the tourism and hospitality industry came together to launch the Twalumba National Tourism Awards, a hybrid of all sectors in the industry.
This brought closer to a scullery of awards, that spoke to a disjointed approach in which the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) had its own awards, ZTA its own awards and the Zimbabwe Tourism Business Council has its own awards.
The greatest thing to have happened this year has been the synchronisation of the awards to be held in November, of course, befittingly in Victoria Falls, the country’s cradle of tourism.
As they launched the awards last week, it felt great that ZTA acting chief executive Mr Givemore Chidzidzi, ZTBC president Winnie Muchanyuka and Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu, spoke with one voice.
Let me say this is the first time that there has been such unity of purpose. In the past, there have been too many fights in the backyard, some of them spilling into the front yard and subsequently newspaper pages.
Suffice to say for two decades I have written on tourism and hospitality, and have seen a lot of in-fighting, back-biting, lack of cohesion and discord in the industry. What has happened this year is the way to go.
Zimbabweans in their broad totality should latch onto the current unity of purpose in the tourism industry and market Brand Zimbabwe as the best tourist destination in Africa, riding on the plinth of our common purpose, on our shared vision, peace and tranquillity.
The world over, tourism is a low hanging fruit, a harbinger of high quality juicy fruits like social cohesion, regional and international integration and investment.
It is, therefore, critical to award those companies, and, indeed, men and women who do a lot to make the country’s image feature among the world’s safest and attractive tourist resorts.
Many investors first come to a county as tourists, and once they enjoy the peace and tranquillity, they then look at business opportunities and return as investors.
It is important, therefore, to note that many tourists are potential investors.
Tourists come to spend money and enjoy the flora and fauna, the ambience of pristine wildlife, the people as well as natural and man-made tourist attractions.
It is during this stay that they cast their nets wide, see and unlock business opportunities.
I just hope the industry remains united and focused and that the awards will speak to the “who-is-who” of the tourism industry in Zimbabwe and the “what-is-what” of the industry.
Until and unless the tourism and hospitality industry is united and working together, it will be pretty too hard to exploit the country’s full tourism potential.
Professionalism, strategic thinking and unity of purpose will make our tourism tapestry great. So far, so good. Let the awards roll on.