Victoria Ruzvidzo In Focus
Mad mad Madrid! The words were inscribed on a T-shirt worn by a little girl one Friday evening during the Spanish Travel showcase Fitur 2018. I now perfectly understand why they call the Spanish capital Mad Mad Madrid. Spaniards love to have fun. They do not sleep at night.
Restaurants are always full of people at night, while public squares are almost impassable as people mingle and network while being entertained by various artists. A combination of foreign visitors and locals produces a mixed bag of fun that keeps many away from their beds into the early hours of the morning.
In the meantime, the Euros will be dropping into Treasury coffers in their millions. Tourism is one of Spain’s major economic contributors, given the country’s popularity as a key international tourism destination.
Wikipedia notes that Spain’s foreign tourist industry is the second biggest in the world. The sector is the third major contributor to the national economy after industry and the business/banking sector, contributing about 11 percent of the country’s GDP.
Since the 1960s, Spain has been a popular destination for summer holidays, especially with large numbers of tourists from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux. In 2016, Spain was the third most visited country in the world, recording more than 75 million tourists, marking the fourth consecutive year of record-breaking numbers.
Spain ranks first among 136 countries in the biannual Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index published by the World Economic Forum last year. It achieved the same feat in 2015. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation is headquartered in Madrid.
The Economist’s 2005 year list shows that Spain has the world’s 10th highest quality of life. Zimbabwe’s tourism sector has potential to reach to such levels in some aspects if nurtured well. The country’s participation at FITUR yielded immense results, many of which will begin to manifest in the coming few months.
Although our exhibition stand was not exactly the best one in town, scores of travellers and operators showed a keen interest in our product. Preceding political developments that saw President Mnangagwa assume power last November had already done a bit of marketing for the country ahead of the travel fair.
“How is Zimbabwe now. Your country is very beautiful and now we can come. ‘Mungwaga’ is doing a great job,” some would say excitedly as they struggled to pronounce the President’s name.
But the tongue-twisting didn’t take away the impact that President Mnangagwa has already made on the international platform. South African tourism officials manning their stand at FITUR were exuberant.
“Just wait and see how your country’s tourism is going to develop. You already have a great country that has been marketed very well. Now with the latest political developments many tourists will be streaming to your country. They were just waiting for this kind of change,” said one of the officials who could not hide his excitement and joy.
Meetings that ensued, with African, Spanish and other European tourism buyers and investors indicated that Zimbabwe is now in fashion. Many expressed rare eagerness to do business with our country once again. It was difficult to fathom that only a few months back our country was a source of scorn and ridicule, but it has now become everyone’s darling. There is God in Heaven.
For a long time the local tourism industry has been touted as having the greatest potential to become the major foreign currency earner ahead of agriculture and mining. And yes it is a possibility. However, a bad international image previously and a global economic crisis, among other factors have affected the number and quality of visitors.
The sector has contributed an average of eight percent to Gross Domestic Product. But it is now time to transform the potential into reality. Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) chief executive Mr Karikoga Kaseke believes that can be achieved. He was optimistic and this was buttressed by the interest demonstrated at FITUR.
“Zimbabwe has been received well by Spanish Tourism operators. What happened in November (new political dispensation) has made them very happy and the assessment for us is that we are geared for more business in the Spanish markets and elsewhere,” said Mr Kaseke.
A statement made by the Honorary Consul for Zimbabwe in Spain Jose Maria Camallonga was quite instructive.
“The allure of its natural richness, biodiversity and Mosi-oa-Tunya or Victoria Falls will be crucial to the development of the tourist industry, which will be one of the pillars of Zimbabwe’s economy over the coming years and its also a priority sector.
“The Government of Zimbabwe is extremely interested in stimulating the potential of the country with regard to tourism. A clear example in this effort is the visit of the Minister of Tourism and Hospitality (Cde Prisca Mupfumira) to Madrid for FITUR,” he said.
Cde Mupfumira was head of the Zimbabwean delegation and she did not disappoint. She encouraged Spanish investors and tour operators to include Zimbabwe on the travel and investment itinerary.
We would not be further from the truth to say that the tourism industry is headed for bigger things. If the success of our participation at FITUR is anything to go by, then we should start popping the champagne bottles.
In God I Trust!