Competitiveness key in tourism growth

President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently appointed Priscah Mupfumira as the new minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, taking over from Edgar Mbwembwe whose term ended abruptly following the resignation of Robert Mugabe as the President last month.

By Mthandazo Nyoni

NewsDay (ND) business reporter, Mthandazo Nyoni spoke to Zimbabwe Council for Tourism (ZCT) president, Tichaona Hwingwiri (TH) about the industry’s expectations from the minister, among other issues. Hwingwiri also highlighted industry’s performance in 2017. Below are excerpts of the interview.

ND: According to your assessment of the tourism business, what is your comment on the performance of the sector in Zimbabwe for the year 2017?

TH: We are delighted by a significant increase in arrivals at Victoria Falls during 2017, at levels higher than expected and over a longer period than is usual for what is known as the high season from June to November.

Unfortunately, all too few of them also made trips to other destinations within Zimbabwe so it is incumbent on all of us in the travel and tourism industry to ensure that these Victoria Falls visitors are encouraged to travel to as many other in-country destinations as possible, a development that requires an improvement in air transport from Victoria Falls to other centres such as Bulawayo, Hwange, Kariba, Mutare, Masvingo and the Lowveld.

Domestic tourism levels remain depressed because of local economic challenges, but if current political developments have a positive effect on the economy this could change during 2018, with benefits to all destinations across the country.

ND: What major challenges did the sector face?

TH: We must as a country create a genuine campaign of awareness riding on the back of the substantial publicity we have enjoyed in recent weeks and this will bear fruit both quickly and meaningfully. The issues of liquidity, unfriendly roadblocks, cost of borrowing, skills shortage, destination competitiveness due to the 15% value-added-tax on foreign accommodation are some of the numerous challenges that our industry faced in 2017. We look forward to improvements in all the above.

ND: How did the market respond to the new developments in the country, for instance, the reduction of police roadblocks on the country’s highways?

TH: The self-drive South African public is yet to respond to the reduction in roadblocks, which in their minds remain a major disincentive factor in choosing Zimbabwe above other neighbouring countries. We have noted a reasonable increase in domestic travel already and this will increase in 2018. We expect this improved status to be the norm going forward and applaud the authorities for taking a progressive stance on this critical area.

ND: Could you kindly comment further on the domestic tourism issue. Are we getting much from this market as a country?

TH: Domestic tourism is dependent entirely on the state of the economy. If our economic conditions improve there will be a consequent increase in travel by local people to destinations across the country. During the boom period of tourism in this country, which was the period 1988 to 1999, there was a significant steady annual growth in both international and domestic tourism, and we look forward to this in 2018 and beyond.

ND: What efforts are you making as ZCT to make sure that the nation benefits much from this market?

TH: The ZCT is the voice of the operators, all of whom are highly active in promoting their products locally and internationally, and it is our role to encourage the creation of an enabling environment in which they can succeed, and we, therefore, lobby on their behalf in the pursuit of such an enabling environment. It is, of course, the role of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority to undertake destination marketing for Zimbabwe and for all its internal attractions at all levels within the various markets, a task for which they require adequate funding by the central government.

ND: What are your expectations from the new government as a sector? What major issues do you feel the government should address?

TH: Key to future activity is recognition of the importance of travel and tourism in the stimulation of economic growth and development and the consequent fundamental need to eliminate obstacles on tourism realising its potential. Making Zimbabwe a more competitive destination is essential, as we are regarded as expensive to reach and expensive to stay in. We have lobbied for a long time in these areas and we shall continue to do so. If the new government genuinely recognises the true value-existing and potential — of the travel and tourism sector in economic terms, it will not fail to act in providing support mechanisms that effect change.

ND: What is your 2018 outlook?

TH: I am exceptionally excited by the potential for change within the travel and tourism sector in the coming weeks, months and years, resulting from the national dispensation that focuses on growth and development and on giving travel and tourism everything it needs to achieve its own growth and development. As was once said by Winston Churchill: give us the tools and we shall finish the job. If travel and tourism grows then so will Zimbabwe.