Interview with Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Dr Walter Mzembi

  • March 10, 2017

CAN A NEW LEADERSHIP CHANGE THE FACE OF AFRICAN TOURISM?. In a conversation with the Times of Africa, the Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Dr Walter Mzembi, articulates the importance of the often neglected tourism sector and explains why he is on a mission to reveal the world’s best kept secret- Africa.
Kindly enlighten us about the current scenario of the tourism sector in Zimbabwe.
The tourism sector is definitely on a growth trajectory. From the time I took charge as the Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister of Zimbabwe in 2009, the tourism sector has expanded from $394 million to about $1.1 billion in 2016. The figures indicate incremental growth. Today, tourism is being acknowledged as the fourth pillar of the economy after agriculture, mining and manufacturing by 2020. The sector is further expected to grow by 5% on a yearly basis, by 2022-2025.
Zimbabwe and Zambia have recently re-launched the Kavango Zambezi Transfontier Conservation Area ‘Univisa’ – one visa to visit both Zimbabwe and Zambia. Do you plan to extend this facility to other African nations as well?
It is a pilot phase-one ‘Univisa’ project and is just the beginning of a rollout that will see three other countries namely- Namibia, Angola and Botswana- joining phase two of the plan. Going forward, the expansion of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Univisa project will involve all the 15 member countries. And when we are done with that, we will lınk the Univisa facility with other African regional blocs such as the East African community and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). And that in itself will mark the commıssıonıng of a sıngle Afrıcan vısa regıme to the other regions of the continent. It ıs our dream that we can open up Africa by the year 2020 complımentıng a sıngle Afrıcan passport of the Afrıcan Unıon under Agenda 2063.
What are your expectations from the Indian Government as far as bilateral cooperation in the tourism sector is concerned?
We would like to see more robust relationships between the two countries. To us, India represents a continental scale that is equivalent to Africa. It is better to encourage the Indo- Africa engagements, visits and travel collaborations at the continental scale rather than doing that at country level so that we leverage crıtıcal mass. The most crıtıcal thing is to recognise the already excelling travel hubs of Africa, through which Indians reach the continent. This includes Addis, Nairobi, O. R. Tambo and Cairo. And we must leverage these hubs for distributing the already existing traffic. That would be stage one. Stage two should see regional products ıntegratıon. Hence, SADC must ıdentıfy ıts own magnet products that ıt must integrate. East Africa must also leverage on this national product, so should North Africa and ECOWAS. The KAZA TFCA ıs a good example consolıdatıng 52 tourist activities, seven international airports and it is arguably the biggest biodiversity enclave in sub-Saharan Africa. We must offer this to mass markets like India and China, ın order to ımprove value proposition and competıtıveness. A vısıt to Zımbabwe should be a vısıt to a five-country experience with 52 activities. It can be connected within one hour from Victoria Falls to any of the airports within those five countries. In Namibia, the tourists will see the sand dunes, in Angola it will be the beaches, in Zimbabwe it will be the Victoria Falls and the wildlife. Thus, the visitor gets to see the richer diversity in terms of what he experiences. That should be the task that Africa must explore and India must support.
India and Africa are two regions which have so many commonalities. They are both so diverse. How do you plan to leverage this diversity?
The first thing about India which is never spoken about is that there is no colonial legacy of Indians in Africa. Hence, there is no colonial baggage and there is no retribution or compensation in our historical interactions. We have a clean bill of health and we should decide to engage more robustly with each other unlike Europe or America. Thus, India naturally aligns with Africa and we must interpolate this towards hearty relationships in terms of travel. We must also leverage the existing diaspora communities that are present in almost every African country. Take stock of who they are and which part of India they come from, their demographic sizes and their cultural experiences. There is an ease that Indians feel in Africa because there is no cultural shock. You come to Harare or anywhere, in each city there is an Indian restaurant. There are Indian preferred hotels that answer to your cultural norms; temples and mosques are also in place. It is almost like a Home away from Home. What we now need to do is cash on the revolution of our time – the Information and Communications Technology. Each time an Indian visits Zimbabwe or anywhere in Africa, they must shoot images. Africa suffers from a negative branding experience from ıts traditional markets. However, modern technology and applications now enable us to tell the real story in real time and correct negatıve stereotype about Africa. We must fight images with images. Therefore, we should invest in ICT and digital communication. And in this regard I can happily share that Zimbabwe is excelling in ICT with a penetration rate of 120%. We must now invest in software to give more exposure to our products. You visit, share the images in real time and that should motivate the curiosity of others to do the actual visit. We must appropriate value to travel in this trade-investment chain. India, in the framework of Indo-Africa collaborations must place travel correctly to benefit from the latent opportunity that remains largely unexploited in Africa.
Zimbabwe is such a rich and varied nation. Its capital Harare is known as the ‘Sunshine city’. Yet, the tourism and hospitality sector has not blossomed to its full potential. What challenges did you face in your line of duty as the tourism minister of Zimbabwe since the day you first took office?
It is the lack of prioritisation of travel and tourism in African Governments’ architecture, including fiscal appropriation and funding of the sector. A token acknowledgement of the sector that lıves wıth ıts natural devıces without any significant investment. Africa is the world’s best kept secret. Even in the 21st century, a handful of people know about what lies in Africa, what is hidden in its bios and dense jungles. Thus, we must celebrate the advent of ICT to explore Africa from anywhere without actually visiting the continent. Let’s take advantage of the digital satellite communication to unleash the Brand Africa.
You have been entrusted to carry the African torch to the United Nations World Tourısm Organisation. How do you plan to go about this campaign?
Afrıca ıs the weakest lınk ın global tourism performance. At 1.5 trillion USD in direct exports, tourism ıs the third largest exporter after fuels and chemicals, followed by foodstuffs and automobiles. It employs one in every eleven people, equivalent to about 288 million jobs. It has recorded exponential growth – from 25 million in 1950 to about 1.2 billion by the year 2016. It contrıbutes 10% to the global Gross Domestic Product equıvalent to 8 trillion USD. Within the context of such a buoyant and bullish performance, Africa’s market share is just a mere 3 to 5%. Thıs ıs my fırst motıvatıon to correct this inequity so that we brıng a strong Afrıca to the table as an asset not a lıabılıty to the global balance sheet.
And how do we achieve that?
One of the ways of achievıng that ıs by getting intimate with agenda setting and thrustıng ourselves ınto the cockpıt of global tourısm. In this regard, I have always reminded my audiences that since 1957, when tourism assumed a global status, we have seen 46 years of Europe’s leadership of the UNWTO, eight years of the Mexican leadership and now in the last eight years, the leadership of the Middle-East through the incumbent Secretary General Dr. Taleb Rifai. It is not difficult to coordinate the enhanced market shares of Europe, America and Middle-East global market share can be easıly linked to the legacies of the men that ran this sector as Secretary Generals. The Unıted Natıons has a ınformal rotatıonal equıty system that attempts to deploy leaders of ıts systems to all Member States or at least geopolıtıcal regıons. For example the Koreans have just come out of the leadership of the United Natıons Ban Ki-moon and retaın the headshıp of yet another UN agency. You should expect that they demonstrate magnanimity as has been shown by China whıch presıdes over 3 or 4 UN agencıes and defer the chance to least developed and developıng countrıes at least for some of these lesser known agencıes. But alas Korea ıs ın thıs electıon stampedıng wıth us contrary to the spırıt of Afrıca – Korea Partnershıp. Thıs ıs not a super-league competition and ıt wıll be a mark of true comradeship ıf they extend a goodwıll to Africa’s chance. You referred to the breakaway of Seychelles candıdate from Afrıca again ıts up to Member States to make choıce between that unılateral candıdature and the wıll and endorsement of the 54 natıons. Agaın statecraft wıll tell you what the wısest thıng to do. Afrıca works wıth the G20 maınly through partnershıps forums and support wıth each other’s candıdatures ıs a standard and recıprocal dıplomacy.
The Taj Mahal represents India on global tourism, the Great Wall of China does that for China. Which one heritage would you pick from all the 54 countries to represent Africa on the global tourist forum?
Its people! The people of Africa are our heritage. Without people, there is no tourism. We measure tourism in terms of arrivals i.e. somebody must travel from one point to the other. When he arrives, he must spent. It is not animals that are travelling from one point to another to spend, its people. So, if you take away people from the tourism equation, there is no product. It is always people.
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