The Sunday News
Dumisani Nsingo, Features Reporter
TOURISM, one of the pillars of Zimbabwe’s economy has been on an upward trajectory over the past few years as more visitors continue to pour into the country among them the country’s all-weather friends, the Chinese from whom a lot can be learnt.
Although Zimbabwe’s tourism sector is growing, a lot can be plucked from the pages of the Chinese tourism “book”, which is spiced with their culture in the process becoming a big draw card. Tourism is becoming increasingly important to China, as both a source of revenue and a means to enhance international image. China is currently the fourth most popular tourist destination behind France, the United States, and Spain.
According to experts at market research group Euromonitor International, China has witnessed a significant growth in tourists’ arrival over the past few years and projections are that it will overtake France as the world’s number one tourist destination by 2030 as a growing middle class in Asia looks to spend more on travel.
The World Travel and Tourism Council projects that by 2028, China’s economy will benefit from travel and tourism, more than any other country, at US$2,731.5 billion in contributions to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
However, it is important to state that in its journey to attaining growth in the tourism sector, China infused culture and tourism.
The Asian giant realised that the development of tourism is a significant way to develop and strengthen cultural industries as well. To buttress the importance of culture in tourism, the Government of China integrated its Ministry of Culture and Ministry of National Tourism Administration and come up with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Cultural tourism is broadly defined as tourism that engages the culture, lifestyle, art, architecture, religion, and such, and can include activities such as home stays and tours to places of worship.
Cultural tourism in the tourist sphere in China, holds a high position. The country has many great monuments belonging to different dynasties dating as far back as B.C, pilgrimage destinations of Buddhism and other religions, colossal sculptures and temples, and the Great Wall of China, all that forms its visiting cards. Furthermore, the architecture and cultural features within the country differ considerably depending on the region.
In his compendium, The Governance of China, President Xi Jinping highlights the importance of creative industry.
“We should make the past serve the present, taking the past as a mirror for today, distinguishing what can be used, and what cannot, and carrying forward while assimilating, instead of esteeming the past over the present and using the past to negate the present. We should learn to transform and boost traditional culture in a creative way, to integrate old and new, and let both of them serve our current mission of cultivating the people,” he said.
President Xi has frequently made inspirational remarks about culture. Speaking during an inspection tour in Beijing, 25 February 2014 he said: “We should systematically categorise traditional culture, let cultural relics in forbidden palaces be displayed across the country, and let characters written in the ancient books come alive.”
China also stepped up efforts to promote “red tourism”, a newly developed tourism activity unique in China, which features visits to sites with significance of revolutionary history.
To push this vision, the government earmarked 2,64 billion Yuan ($370 million) to develop red tourism between 2016 and 2020, turning it into big business. Trips to sites associated with the country’s communist revolution accounted for 10 percent of domestic tourism spending in the first half of 2018, according to government statistics. State media estimate red tourism sites get 800 million visits a year.
Zimbabwe has over the last few years experienced an increase in tourist arrivals. The country recorded 2,6 million international tourist arrivals in 2018, six percent up from 2,4 million received in 2017. The growth in arrivals was driven by the notable growth in arrivals from all source regions and most major markets with the exception of the Americas.
The unprecedented growth on the backdrop is riding on a number of factors that include many years of marketing efforts, political transition, increase in aircraft sequences into the country and Government’s new marketing mantra “Zimbabwe is open for business”.
The Government has identified tourism as a key economic pillar in the current Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP) reaching five million tourists and contributing 15 percent to GDP from the current eight percent, receiving five billion in receipts and employing 300 000 directly and indirectly.
However, for the Government to attain its target there is a need for the country to diversify its tourist packages and consider investing more in promoting cultural tourism taking into consideration that most travellers no longer fancy superficial tourist trips but prefer to explore the history behind and cultural importance of natural landscapes and other tourist attractions.
Renowned historian and cultural fundi who is also founder of Amagugu International Heritage Centre Mr Pathisa Nyathi said there was a need for the Government to channel more funding towards the cultural-oriented activities, heritage sites as well as various arts activities, as these played a big role in highlighting the country’s image to the outside world.
“Culture, heritage and arts are the image of a country. What is important is that they are promoted, marketed and developed. That can’t be done without requisite funding. The Government must fund these but not much is happening when it comes to funding the heritage. What is given goes towards salaries, but we need to inject a lot towards development of arts. We need to pump in money towards creative industry,” he said.
Mr Nyathi said there was a need for the country’s populace, including authorities, to embrace art and consider the role it could play in contributing towards the growth of the economy.
“We need people who will support and appreciate arts because it is an industry. Here (in our country) art is not appreciated, they (authorities) don’t even fully know that it can contribute to the country’s GDP. Art is our pride and it can be a source of employment and it can improve livelihood . . . ,” he said.
Mr Nyathi says the country has a lot to learn from China when it comes to cultural appreciation.
“China is proud of its culture, when they get ideas from other nations they do it on their culture. The language they use there is theirs. Our problem is we despise ourselves and we don’t regard our culture highly. It’s associated with permittivity; it’s an effect of being colonised,” he said.
Renowned Bulawayo arts experts and lecturer at Lupane State University Dr Nkululeko Sibanda said the cultural element was essential to the transformation and sustainable development of tourism.
“Promotion of cultural tourism will allow development at local level, which includes infrastructural development and secondly it will create jobs for the locals, specifically the young who are in a challenging situation where unemployment rate is very high,” he said.
Dr Sibanda also said promoting and funding cultural tourism activities or projects could be used as a conduit to grow economies of underdeveloped communities.
“China has a devolved approach to cultural tourism whereby provinces and districts benefit more from cultural tourism than the Government, so it feeds into the aspect of infrastructural development as well. If we devolve cultural tourism to local areas it then begins to promote certain ethnic groups peculiar to certain spaces and geographic locations,” he said.
Dr Sibanda said there was a need for the country to develop cultural tourism products peculiar to itself.
“We need to develop our own approach to cultural tourism because China developed its own approaches that are peculiar to different regions, that’s something we can learn by saying from a Zimbabwean perspective or African perspective how can we package and market our cultural tourism,” he said.
Dr Sibanda said China’s tourism sector has over the years experienced significant growth largely due to the marketing and promotion of its cultural festivals across the globe.
“We need to promote our cultural festivals as a country because one saleable product from China that promotes their cultural tourism are festivals. They (Chinese) begin to brand cities whereby a certain city becomes known for its cultural festival, for example in Bulawayo there is Intwasa Arts and Cultural Festival.
“If we begin to promote cultural tourism, we then begin to have better returns from Intwasa because people are going to visit Bulawayo because of this event and the festival then begins to grow regionally into an international festival,” he said.
This year from May 15 to June 30 Chinese’s culture centres and tourism offices overseas hosted more than 250 cultural and tourism events in over 40 countries as part of the country’s efforts to showcase a “real China and its modern development” as well as to promote tourism and cultural co-operation between itself and the rest of the world through exhibitions, shows, lectures and forums, the global project, China Tourism and Culture Week, whose tagline is “China Beyond Your Imagination”.