Zimbabwe needs an epiphany

via OPINION – Zimbabwe needs an epiphany | The Source December 20, 2013 by Farai Murambiwa 

Our inability to perceive opportunities right in our faces is spectacular, failure to maximise the same becomes unsurprising. Zimbabwe’s tourism appeal is nowhere closer to where it was before.

The United Nations World Trade Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly of August 2013 gave us an opportunity for a reset, but sadly we appear to be focusing on crumbs, when there is real food ready for the taking. We seem to walk with eyes wide shut, oblivious of the low hanging fruits eager to pull us out of the economic abyss we find ourselves in, instead focusing on the complicated whose outcome we can only speculate.

A task-force is in place we are told, ready to concoct a package that shall incentivise civil servants to spur the growth of domestic tourism. Further we also hear that the mission is already complete in turning the country’s fortunes as regards international tourists, prompting the drive to focus on the domestic market. This, in my view is unfortunate – we are turning attention away from where it should be. I pray for an epiphany, that our eyes are open so we can perceive and exploit this opportunity that is right in our faces while it exits!

Zimbabwe has a real potential to become a tourism powerhouse in the region. Drivers of tourism resonate well with the country’s chosen path of development, while at the same time speaking to key fundamentals in improving investor confidence in the country. Empirical evidence support its relative competitiveness in efficiently utilising scarce resources compared to sectors that have been famed as the messiahs in the quest to remedy Zimbabwe’s economic challenges. I hold the view that there is a compelling case to relook our efforts in promoting tourism with the aim of putting it forward as a cornerstone in addressing the nation’s development needs.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa spoke glowingly about  the potential of tourism in his 2014 budget presentation, ZimAsset asserts the same while a National Tourism Policy due to be launched any time now will hopefully provide concrete strategies to realise this potential. Meanwhile, the fact remains that there appears to be a deficiency of the zeal necessary to take the industry to the next level.

For tourism minister Walter Mzembi, successfully hosting the UNWTO Assembly is his legacy. He cannot be faulted as a point man, yet the assembly only set a basis upon which we have to spring from as a nation. Conditions have fortunately connived to favour us for once; the ducks are clearly in a row and require only our ingenuity to convert this potential to bankable income.

For starters, the perception of Zimbabwe as a tourist destination has improved significantly as evidenced by the 17 percent jump in 2013 international arrivals. Key driving factors were the peace and tranquility that characterised the referendum and general elections that took place this year, underpinned later on by the success in hosting of the UNWTO assembly.

This has also happened at an opportune time when momentum for growth in tourism is with developing nations, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in particular. Between 2008 and 2009, tourist arrivals in the region  increased by 4.4 percent while arrivals worldwide dropped by 3.8 percent. Between 2009 and 2010, tourist arrivals to SSA increased by eight percent; the world average was 6.6 percent. Africa was the only region whose tourism sector grew during the world economic crisis.

This trend is set to continue and should intensify with expanding incomes especially in Africa. Zimbabwe has the opportunity to maximise its benefit by transforming to become the preferred destination relative to its peers.

Empirical evidence shows tourism to be an efficient employer of scarce capital. A study in Zambia by the Natural Resources Consultative Forum (Hamilton and others, 2007) found out that a $ 0.25million investment in tourism generates 182 full-time formal jobs (direct and indirect), which is nearly 40 percent more than what the same investment yields in agriculture and over 50 percent more than in mining. Now these three happen to be the pillars upon which the Zimbabwean economy is built, yet evidence shows that if job creation is the objective, it is best achieved through allocating more resources to tourism.

To add to that, tourism compares favourably in terms of opportunities for small and medium enterprises  development, career advancement and lifelong learning potential compared to the other two. I believe these traits alone make a compelling case for increasing the prominence of tourism on the national agenda.

Zimbabwe’s credentials as an investment destination can do with a bit of reforms to appease the requirements of investors. Tourism can certainly play a central role in accelerating reforms as has been witnessed in a number of countries worldwide.

In Cape Verde for instance, tourism took off when the banking sector was reformed, when the Escudo (Cape Verde currency) was pegged to the Euro coupled with the creation of an attractive package of investment incentives (Twining-Ward 2010b). Rwanda, on the other hand, significantly improved its  “doing business” indicators on the back of the desire to increase gorilla tourism.

This has been vital in transforming perceptions about the country from being a genocidal war-torn country, to a strong growing economy awash with investment opportunities. Candid efforts to promote tourism in Zimbabwe will invariably call for some policy reforms which will by and large be positive for the country and can aid in attracting investment in other sectors.

Zimbabwe hosted the 6th All Africa Games in 1995 and the legacy has been a number of huge sporting facilities some of which have unfortunately earned the ‘white elephants’ status. South Africa’s $2.6 billion  investment in upgrading airports and sports facilities ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup is yet another good example of what tourism can trigger in terms of infrastructure development.

The Zimbabwe government has strong desires to undertake significant infrastructure projects especially in the energy, irrigation and road  sectors. If such projects were to be implemented prioritising the appeal of the nation as a tourist destination; the tourism’s multiplier effect can significantly improve the economic return of such projects. Further, there is evidence of tour operators, especially hoteliers, reaching out to their surrounding communities to improve the health and welfare of their workers and to ensure that local people prize the benefits that tourists can bring them.

The industry has proven capability of empowering women, young people, and marginalised groups in societies where it thrives. This clearly sounds like a line borrowed from the Zimbabwean government policy documents as these are the same groups targeted for emancipation by the country’s empowerment laws.

A 2010 study by UNWTO and United Nations Women established  that in Africa  31 percent of employees in the hotel and restaurant sector were women, compared to 21 percent in other sectors. Empowering women to participate in economic development at all levels and in all sectors is essential to build strong and stable economies as well as just societies (UNIFEM and UN Global Compact 2010). Zimbabwe aspires to build such an economy and tourism’s developmental potential is clearly in sync with realities of our time.

Lastly, tourism shows particular promise in creating demand for non-tourism goods and services such as transport, fuels, retailing, finance, real estate, agriculture, and communications. Research by the World Travel and Tourism Council (2011) shows that tourism can generate twice as much from indirect spending on non-tourism goods and services as well as from induced supply chain benefits than from direct tourist spending. Zimbabwe is currently struggling in its efforts to stimulate domestic demand for the few products that its depleted industry is producing. Focus on tourism thus has demonstrable ability to offer a helping hand in plugging that gap.

However, all these benefits will not accrue without pain. My prayer for an epiphany is premised upon the realisation of the myriad of challenges that need to be overcome before Zimbabwe is firmly on the route to being a tourist haven. We have become far too expensive as a nation. The product we offer is clearly not value for money, tourists who are visiting us today have either not done their homework well or like us so much that they would like to donate some of their wealth to us. The industry just needs to reform and become competitive. If it makes sense to discount our offering to the civil servant, why not extend the same package to the international tourist and unlock 90 percent of the plusses enumerated above.

The cost of travel is yet another big huddle to negotiate. I have no idea why Harare is not the Southern Africa hub in as far as air travel is concerned. Is the challenge still tied to sanctions or we have simply not thought through what we offer in light of the opportunity at hand. If we make a conscious decision to be the cheapest as regards airport taxes, will that not change anything? The list is endless, but all it requires is that we open our eyes as a people and seek to be the most competitive tourist destination in our part of the world and a big portion of our challenges will be on the way to being solved.


  • comment-avatar

    Irrelevant musings. As long as zanupf regime

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    Johann 8 years ago

    Agree with Rev’-Avenger. Everyone knows what great tourism and other potential Zimbabwe has but unfortunately not many people appreciate visiting or doing business with a country that has a regime so openly hostile to persons of pale complexion, there’s plenty of competition elsewhere.

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    munzwa 8 years ago

    Agree with you both, our Immigration dept. needs a revamp as do our border posts and we all know it is possible.

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    moyokumusha 8 years ago

    Without cash nothing can be achieved. And now they want to change the name of Victoria Falls (our biggest tourism asset)so where are all the tourists going to go – Victoria falls Zambia. Mind boggling

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    Mr Mixed Race 8 years ago

    The masses know what to do but the few in power are holding this country at ramson with hate speeches and uncontrolled few war vets like Chinotimba and Sibanda.Why should a tourist come here to be insulted because of his colour when he can go across the river in Zambia where he will get VIP treatment by welcoming people and their government.A few months ago it was reported in the media that a group of tourists were badly treated at BBG AREA by a group of war vets who raided the place and ordered guests to leave the place.What do you think those tourists took back to their countries?The government should start controlling these few war vets. WE ALL CONTRIBUTED IN THE LIBERATION WAR BUT WE ARE MATURE ENOUGH TO THINK OF OUR COUNTRY’S NEEDS FIRST NOT PERSONAL GLORY.

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    family guy 8 years ago

    while our lame govt is doing the opposite b y destroying the bridges made towards rebuilding the country. just look at how livingstone has boomed in zambia with tourists coming in numbers…kenya airways has even opened a daily direct flight route due to inreased tourists volumes visiting kenya then wanting to see vic.falls, previously all those numbers used to throng our beloved vic falls town..what a pity.

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    Isu Zvedu 8 years ago

    I have said this before. And I will say it again. Zimbabwe needs to bite the bullet so to speak and adopt its zim$ currency. The currency defines us as an independent nation ready to trade fairly on the international scene while Zimbabweans in the know return us to the industry and commerce laws that saw us believing in our currency, trading locally and creating our own banks and atms etc. I know this sounds crazy given Gono’s track record of printing money and adding zeros. But people forget that once we had real governors who knew their job as governor of RBZ. Vanhu veZanu, if you people are genuine in making our war of liberation have any semblance of meaning, please rally behind the call to bringback the zim$ and this time you have learned your lessons.

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    @Isu Zvedu: I agree with you that Zimbabwe has enough intellectual capital to run a country but are you aware we have been doing it for the last 33 years. We inherited a country that just needed to accomodate the previously disadvantaged majority by making available equal opportunities and no need for a policy overhaul (we did well inhering draconian laws like POSA, police brutality and even guarding fuel depots, forgetting the previous regime was guarding them against us). The cake was big enough to share and did we share? There is more that enough land in Zimbabwe, arable for that matter for every adult to own a productive piece and still have some left over but what did we do? Organized land distribution started from as early as 1981, for those who care to remember. Remember “Minda Mirefu”? Donors were clamouring to support that worthy cause, and what did we do: the chef started abusing the funds, buying farms for themselves mostly peri-urban (positionining themselves for parcelling out plots at exorbitant prices) and not distributinbg the land as intended. The donors pulled the plug, and before finally calling it a day, insisted that the program be run by the UNDP. To which the chefs flatly refused, reminding the donors of Zimbabwe’s sovereignty. When the donors refused to budge, in came the farm invasions. And what follows thereafter is a story all too familiar, a staory that not only happened, but is still unfolding, chapter by chapter. We are not done, we have sunk so low and are still digging.
    To come back to your point @ Isu Zvedu, bringing the Z$ will not solve anything. So futile is the effort that it will not even make our situation any worse, because we are already “lip” deep in our mess.

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    moyokumusha 8 years ago

    Isu, you are like gono, you don’t understand economics and the securities needed to secure a currency and we do not have that and there is no hope of that in the near future. It is going to many many years before we can get the Zim dollar back, we have a lot of other issues to resolve first. As Save says by bringing it back now we will only make things a lot worse.

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    @Moyokumusha: I totally agree with you that any currency needs a base to hinge on. The idea of backing currency with gold was thrown out a long time ago and the only thing that will build a credible currency is sterling economic performance. If we can revamp our exports, agriculture, minerals, tourism, telecommunications and yes, human capital, maintain a reserve worth 12 or so months of import cover, we can maybe start talking about a currency. Other than misdirected pride and so called sovereignty, what good does having our own currency do. Having a Z$ currency at this stage is as misdirected as maintaining a national carrier in the same name.
    Lastly, even the best intellectuals have bowed down under pressure from the regime, making clowns of themselves. Zimbabwe never lacked when it comes to Finance ministers or RBZ Governors. A few of them realized the plot and left with their dignity and sanity (Dr Sikohosana Moyo, Dr Simba Makoni). We had the best of the best but they all bowed down to pressure, threw ethics and morals through the window and rewrote economic principles to prop up the regime. What Gono and company did to the economy is no small task and not a subject for oridinary minds. It required serious effort and genious; and yes they succeeded. If only the same minds could be put to work in the positive. Smith surived sanctions, not through printing money, but through localizing industry and reducing the need for importation of goods to the barest minimum, and still left the ecomony at its strongest ever in 1979. We dont need to own a currency to trade……