The Sunday News
THIS is the third and final instalment in a series that I began by looking at the policy environment around the tourism sector in Zimbabwe, its contribution to the economy, key constraints to tourism growth and why tourists have shied away from Zimbabwe with these having included alleged harassment by traffic police, high costs of most destinations, poor and dilapidated infrastructure, poor connectivity between destinations and delays by immigration authorities. In this edition I will endeavour to look at what can be done to boost the low hanging fruits of economic revival offered by the tourism industry in Zimbabwe.
Rehabilitation of key infrastructure
The Government will need to undertake massive rehabilitation of the country’s road networks. The awarding of a tender to rehabilitate the Beitbridge/Harare/ Chirundu highway is a positive and encouraging development. However, the rehabilitation needs to cover both urban and rural areas. The Government will need to court international partners in Public-Private Partnerships arrangements in the same manner to what happened with the Group 5 for the rehabilitation of the Plumtree-Bulawayo-Harare-Mutare highway which was hugely successful.
The private sector need to upgrade the tourist product through refurbishment, re-engineering and in some cases through complete over-haul, for instance some of the vehicles offered by car hire companies should have been removed from the market some 10 years ago.
Pricing of tourism products
The private sector must change its pricing model which is based on high margins which is a hangover from the high inflation period of 2005-2008. A meaningful start has been made by the major hotel groups in the country like Rainbow Tourism Group and African Sun which have begun to offer discounted weekend room rates to visitors and negotiated conference packages.
Training of first point staff
The Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry and the private sector need to put in place short term training programmes to address the skills gap that are within different components of the tourism industry. Government will need to engage international partners like the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) to provide it with resources to operationalise the programme.
The Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality needs to work closely with the Ministries of Home Affairs and Ministry of Finance to develop and implement an intensive customer care training programme for the police, customs and immigration officials. This will help these frontline personnel to develop appropriate attitudes and etiquette to handle visitors that come into the country.
The Government needs to rethink its current position on the adoption of the United States Dollar as the anchor of its multicurrency system. Given that South Africa is the country’s major trading partner it makes economic sense to adopt the rand as the anchor currency. Calls have been made by representatives of different sectors of the economy to adopt the rand as the anchor currency for the country but these have been fiercely rejected at the highest levels of policy making. The tourism industry stands to benefit if this was implemented as products and services in the sector will be priced at rates that are competitive to those of the rest of the Sadc member states.
Connectivity and accessibility of tourist destinations in Zimbabwe
There is urgent need to attend to the issue of the inadequacy of direct flights between Zimbabwe and the key source markets. For instance, at the present moment there are no direct flights between Zimbabwe and Europe, neither is there a direct flight between Zimbabwe and the USA. Lack of direct flights between Zimbabwe and her key source markets have hindered tourism development and is causing Zimbabwe to be rated poorly on the overall perception and easy connectivity index.
While there has been progress in opening up the skies to international airlines into Zimbabwe, it remains a nightmare to link the tourists to various destinations like Kariba, Victoria Falls, Hwange, the Eastern Highlands and Masvingo. In addition, there are no luxury coaches linking the respective tourist destinations with the major cities/ towns except for the Harare/ Bulawayo route. Further there are no tour packages and tour coaches to enable tourists to travel from centres like Mutare to the various destinations like Vumba, Mt Nyangani, Hot Springs, among others. The same challenges are encountered in other resorts like Masvingo and Kariba, which are not serviced by scheduled luxury coaches.
Marketing of resort areas
There seems to be scope for a lot more to be done on the marketing front since South Africa seems to be outflanking Zimbabwe by employing a wither-withal marketing prowess by even marketing Zimbabwe’s tourism flagship, the Victoria Falls, as part of its tourism product catalogue much to the chagrin of Zimbabwean tourism authorities. Zimbabwe’s marketing and promotional efforts are hamstrung by lack of adequate budgetary support from treasury due to the continuous shrinking of the fiscal space.
Zimbabwe ought to balance the fine line between the newly found Asian tourism market as dictated to by the obtaining political and economic policies, and the so-called traditional tourism markets. The Asian market has to be seriously developed and put in place mechanisms to get the most out of this promising market on the revenue front. It will be necessary to prioritise increasing tourist spending in Zimbabwe than the mere increase in tourist arrivals as it has been observed that the Asians spend way less on holidays and prefer group tour packages which bring little revenue to the country than Western Europeans who stay for longer and spend more freely as long as the pricing model is rationalised.
Then with the traditional key source markets, these must be seriously re-engaged since they prove to be the industry’s cash cows. Such engagement could be political. The Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe can also put a moratorium on levying landing fees on airline carriers from the western market. The Visa regime might also need to be revisited to allow easy access for tourists.
Promotion of alternative tourist destinations
Tourists are attracted to remote areas with high values of cultural, wildlife and landscape assets. The cultural and natural heritage of developing countries is frequently based on such assets, and tourism represents an opportunity for income generation through the preservation of heritage values.
Therefore, tourism enables communities that are poor in material wealth but rich in history and cultural heritage to leverage their unique assets for economic development. Tourism is the only export sector where the consumer travels to the exporting country, which provides opportunities for the poor to become exporters through the sale of goods and services to foreign tourists. Tourism is also labour, intensive and supports diverse and versatile labour markets.
It provides small-scale employment opportunities which also help to promote gender equity. Again, there are numerous indirect benefits of tourism for the poor, including increased market access for remote areas through the development of roads, infrastructure, and communication networks.
Establishment and promotion of other tourist destinations outside of the most known Victoria Falls, Great Zimbabwe and Eastern Highlands can also lead to lower prices for domestic tourism growth instead of the country only relying on foreign visitors.
Marketing of places like Chinhoyi Caves, Matopos, Dlodlo, Nalatale, Luswingo and other monuments will go a long way in this regard. Domestic tourism can be encouraged, for instance by the Government which is cash strapped offering holiday packages for civil servants in lieu of cash. This will involve offering bonuses in the form of holiday coupons to Government workers in holiday off peak seasons and also allowing this coupon which can be in the form of three to five days hotel stay, transport for a certain number of family members and other leisure activities to a resort area in the country and allowing these coupons to be sold to anyone for cash if the holder so wishes.
This would greatly ease the cash pressure that Government faces in paying bonuses every November and also afford families a chance to enjoy the many underutilised tourist resorts outside of the usual Victoria Falls, Great Zimbabwe and Eastern Highlands thereby developing the vast potential of tourism in the country.
At policy making level, if access through a single visa is not expedited, then all the collective efforts by private sector and Government to increase visitors will remain an elusive goal. Non-implementation of such well-intentioned policies may sadly mean that the country will not be in a position to meet or attain its goals and will continue to play second fiddle to South Africa. On access, it is high time the powers that be strike a balance between policy pronouncements and action. Otherwise without action, they will merely remain policy pronouncements with no deliverables on the ground.
Attending to the high airport departure fees, luring more airline carriers, and bringing finality to the contentious 15 percent VAT on tourism services call for bold and radical move if the super-ordinate goal of resuscitating the industry is to be a reality.
-Butler Tambo is a Policy Analyst who works for the Centre for Public Engagement and can be contacted on [email protected] or +263776607524.