Zimbabwe has been a victim of negative publicity for almost two decades now and the greatest sin committed is taking away land from white former farmers and giving it to majority blacks.
Yes, to the few white farmers dispossessed of this major factor of production, Zimbabwe deserved to be ostracised, but to the majority blacks, this is the beginning of a long journey to economic emancipation.
However, for years, the country has been missing a great opportunity to reposition itself among major economic players through the world acclaimed Sanganai/Hlanganani World Tourism Expo, which is traditionally held in Bulawayo.
Acting Minister of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Kirsty Coventry, who is also Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister, is expected to officially open this international tourism showcase today.
The country’s prime tourism fair is being organised by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA).
The country is always presented with the opportunity to make Zimbabwe rise again and exhibit to the world not only its tourism potential, but how hospitable it is, its human and natural resource endowment among other key deliverables.
What is fascinating with this tourism extravaganza is that there are over 25 international media houses represented and 170 private firms participating at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair grounds.
It is our strongest conviction that all tourism players in the country should take advantage of the presence of the greatest tourism journalists and opinion leaders in the game.
Local hotels, natural resource managers such as Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, should keep their houses in order, have these journalists carry the real Zimbabwean story.
Zimbabwe is the jewel of Southern Africa, but has been eclipsed by the negative reports by the international media.
Now that part of that international media is in the country, we should take that opportunity to tell them the real Zimbabwean story.
Inasmuch as the country views this as a tourism extravaganza, there is a huge potential for the stakeholders to generate millions of dollars along the tourism value chains.
Among the 170 regional and international firms exhibiting in Bulawayo, there will be top airlines, luxurious tour operators, car rentals, clothing firms, safari operators, television suppliers among others.
We have also noticed the presence of firms that manufacture building materials favoured by hotels such as bathing tabs, carpets, floor tiles among others.
There are over 260 exhibitors who have registered to participate and these are from different international organisations who have potential to bring millions of tourists annually.
It is our hope that during the speed dating platform, local operators had the opportunity to market their products.
South Africans have been getting lion’s share of tourism business from Victoria Falls because they have been marketing it as part of numerous packages they have.
The challenges to local players is for them to create attractive packages that suit different tastes of a plethora of tourists we have.
There should be packages for all seasons, peak and off peak so that the destinations remain busy.
All these foreign institutions can be brand ambassadors for Zimbabwe and we implore the ZTA to take this opportunity to package a correct message to be given to these emissaries.
Besides these major takeaways for the country, of course the local tourism sector in Bulawayo is set to benefit immensely from the event.
Yesterday, Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) regional representative for Matabeleland, Mr Innocent Kufa, who is also the general manager for Bulawayo Rainbow Tourism Group, said prior to the tourism fair, occupancy rate for city hotels ranged between 50 and 60 percent.
“From HAZ point of view all the major hotels in Bulawayo are fully booked. I wouldn’t know the occupancy rate for lodges, but I think most of them are fully booked,” he said.
“But it’s not only the Sanganai/Hlanganani bookings alone, we have so many other bookings for other events and business as well.”
Bulawayo Rainbow, Holiday Inn and Cresta Churchill are the major hotels in the city as long as the event continues to be held in the city, there is a need to increase rooms.