BY ZIVISAI CHAGAKA
With Zimbabwe’s travel and tourism sector going all out for a revival of fortunes in the post-Covid era, the onus for getting tourists and business travellers back into the country lies on the shoulders of key operators in the public and private sector.
And, in the opinion of one of them, the future is without doubt going to be what the travel and tourism sector as a whole can achieve, working together in a spirit of partnership at an unprecedented scale.
Kumbi Chiweshe, chief explorer of the Victoria Falls Destination Management Company (DMC), adds that the absence of such a partnership will hinder revival, while a full-on effort that ropes in all private sector operators and all public sector administrators will hit the target.
“We will either sink or swim together,” he said.
Chiweshe has been in the industry for more than two decades, having started his career at Green Route, a pioneering destination management organisation, before moving to Harare’s five-star Meikles Hotel.
He now heads the Victoria Falls DMC, which is focused on bringing incentive travel business from across the world to Zimbabwe’s premier tourist destination, and he also runs Jacaranda Holidays, which packages holidays for travellers from within Zimbabwe and Southern Africa.
He is also current chairman of the Zimbabwe Tour Operators’ Association, one of the representative sectoral associations that makes up membership of the Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe.
Chiweshe is also involved with the recently-formed regional tourism promotion entity Africa’s Eden, which embraces leading operators from Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe and which has launched an initiative for Sadc residents called The Travellers’ Club, which he manages.
“All of these roles mean that I am part of the major thrust being undertaken to get Zimbabwe’s travel and tourism sector back on track, following the devastation of the past two years of the Covid era, when travel to this part of the world was devastated and left our sector hugely impacted,” he said.
“What is good is that our sector is resilient and resourceful and it has a number of people and organisations whose whole reason for being lies in their love for and support of Zimbabwe and its abundant attractions for travellers, whether tourists here for leisure purposes, business travellers or the many other market segments that make up the people around the world who have good reason to come to Zimbabwe for work or pleasure.”
Although recovery has started, Chiweshe knows that it will be limited without a massive push on the part of all people and organisations who can and must play a role in this regard.
“I am pleased to see how much co-operation and team effort is going on at present, and I am certain this effort will result in considerable and sustained success,” he said.
“While it will take us time to get back to the position we were in before Covid, or to the position we were in in the late 1990s, when travel and tourism was at its peak, it is in my mind a certainty that we shall rise to the challenge and get back to these levels and then take it further.”
Chiweshe is not simply concerned with the quantity of visitors, however, and believes that sustainable tourism demands that the focus is on the quality of the destination and the quality of the people who use it.
This is so that Zimbabwe never becomes a mass market destination with a decreasing state of local natural resources, a situation that has occurred elsewhere, but is a destination whose resources will be available for generations to come, for hosts and visitors alike.
With his various hats, Chiweshe has his hands and days full, but he is exhilarated by the chance to get working again after a hiatus that caught the world by surprise and which devastated travel and tourism, with consequences to be felt locally, regionally and internationally for years to come.
The Victoria Falls DMC looks at such varied areas as incentive travel, an area with huge potential as people and organisations look to group travel in new and exciting destinations, as well as at the other parts of the MICE area.
MICE means meetings, incentive travel and events, and for many countries this is the single most important part of the visitor mix.
Jacaranda Holidays looks at leisure travel, creating and selling package holidays across Zimbabwe to domestic and regional tourists.
This, too, has great potential for growth and looks towards all and every attraction and area around Zimbabwe, even those that do not yet recognise their own potential as destinations that people will find of interest and enjoyment.
Africa’s Eden Travellers’ Club is a continental first, giving Sadc residents access to a wide range of travel benefits and discounts from more than 60 travel properties in Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, a number steadily increasing.
The Zimbabwe Tour Operators’ Association is a body that represents the organisations in travel and tourism that provide logistical support, linkage and services, working closely with other parts of the pie, including accommodation and transport.
“I live and breathe Zimbabwe’s tourism product and its potential, and I am thrilled to wake up each morning to play a part in giving our own travel and tourism sector a chance to become the US$5billion industry that a few years ago was set as n achievable target by the mid to late 2020s,” he said.
“This sector can and must match efforts to grow, diversify and realise potential that are under way in other sectors such as mining and agriculture, and we are working with the authorities to make sure our working environment is conducive to achieving this.”
While he is certain that ultimate success is in view, Chiweshe believes that this success will only result from the teamwork he has espoused and from the removal of all and any obstacles that stand in the way of this progress.
“Zimbabwe can and must become one of Africa’s most treasured, valued, respected and cared-for destinations, and in doing so we will be a gem in the tourism crown,” he said.
“A combination of growth and development, protection and enhancement of our natural resources and yielding benefits for the country and its people as a whole will see travel and tourism become one of the key economic sectors, and possibly the single most important economic sector, something that we can all achieve if we put our minds, resources and skills to it.”
When he’s not active in tourism, he’s a devoted father and a keen supporter of international soccer, a diehard Man United supporter.