By Prestige Hove.
SINCE attaining independence in 1980, Zimbabwe has been hit by a series of political and economic turmoil. The not so democratic rule under one man, Robert Mugabe, has seen a country once described as the Switzerland of Africa reduced to the best case of bad governance, poverty and all sorts of economic failures.
Nevertheless, Zimbabwe’s natural scenery remained a focus of touristic attraction throughout even the most difficult times. Zimbabwe ranks as Africa’s 15th in terms of tourism behind South Africa, Seychelles, Mauritius and Kenya, which are ranked first, second, third and fourth respectively, according to the Travel and Tourism Competitive Index capturing the business environment, safety and security, health and hygiene, human resources and labour market and ICT readiness of the countries.
Despite unmatched natural beauties, the tourism sector accounts for only a small portion of the country’s GDP. In 2015, tourism made up to only 5.2% of the GDP, falling from 5.6% in 2014. In 2016, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) highlighted an increase in tourist arrivals into the country, however, many of them especially those from Mainland Africa resorted to very cheap sources of accommodation in lodges as well as friends and relatives.
Observations have also shown that many foreign tourists visiting the Victoria Falls prefer entering through Kazungula and Victoria Falls border posts for single night stays and day trips, making Zimbabwe a secondary destination to them. Challenges in attracting the African markets include visas and air access, which are respectively very expensive and not frequent enough.
The country still struggles with the usual issues that affect tourism in other African countries, ranging from poor air transport and road infrastructure to tourism services infrastructure, unfriendly business environment hostile to foreign direct investment(FDI) and issues with safety and security. ZTA reported that the authority gets over 90% of its funding from tourism levy collected by operators whose businesses are shrinking.
Zimbabwe’s punitive tax regime, coupled with de-industrialisation has forced the economy to rely on imports and devaluation of regional currencies against the US dollar, rendering the country an expensive and uncompetitive tourist destination. In a report in 2016, the ZTA pointed out that arrivals from South Africa and DRC fell marginally 2% and 4% respectively, whilst Zambia and Tanzania fell substantially 16% and 20% respectively largely due to currency depreciation against the US Dollar which is the main trading currency in Zimbabwe.
The current harsh economic climate has resulted in government, private sector and NGOs implementing austerity measures to reduce operating costs with government at some time banning municipalities from holding meetings in hotels as a cost-cutting measure. The media has also not helped the Zimbabwean tourism sector. Actual and perceived concerns regarding safety and security, result in negative publicity to the international and local media. Lack of harmonization between national policies on land use, wildlife and tourism also acts as a drawback to the tourism sector. The tourism industry relies on people to deliver the core of the tourist’s experience. At present, however, the industry does not attract quality people in-terms of skills levels, and fails to retain quality people, due to poor training and development, career progression and salary levels.
To swing the pendulum, robust policy and technological transformation have to be implemented. Lessons must be drawn from other nations who have thrived in the world of tourism despite being faced by the same problems Zimbabwe is facing.
South Africa, rated first on the African Travel and Tourism Competitive index, has a robust tourism policy which has led to a prosperous Tourism sector. It experienced the benefits of hosting a number of large events. The infrastructure created as well as the profiling of South Africa during such events has put the country in a very favourable position to attract tourists. Provinces and cities within South Africa compete to secure events, helping to communicate the tourism destination brand both in South Africa as well as to the outside world supported by the utilisation of the latest electronic information distribution and online/cell reservation systems.
The tourism industry cannot exist without partnerships and collaboration. Visitors look for great experience, which can only be achieved if the various tourism partners work together. The public-private sector interaction is reasonably good, with open communication lines at national level. SAT has made progress in its targeted international marketing efforts, and some of their campaigns have won awards internationally. Quality assurance programmes are being expanded aiming tourism accommodation and conference facilities.
On the other hand, Mauritius National Tourism Policy emphasises low impact, high spending tourism. Selective, up-market, quality tourism is prioritised. Many of the beach resort hotels are internationally recognised for their very high quality. Priority is given to hotel projects of the highest standard providing high quality service and belonging to the 4 and 5-star categories to generate traffic flows belonging to the high-spending segments.
Mauritius economic investment strategy is geared towards a more targeted approach, especially with regards to foreign direct investment in the hotel sector with more discernment in choice of foreign investors to ensure a diversified mix of capital mobilisation. To have a varied investment portfolio, opportunities are given to international brand names currently absent to invest in luxury hotel development to benefit from their marketing network, managerial skills and financial muscles as equity partners.
The Kenyan tourism industry is increasingly being characterized by the establishment of joint ventures between already large companies and formation of Mega Tourism Businesses enabling more efficiency, effectiveness and enhancing their share of the tourist market.
The tourism industry has been one of the most important drivers behind Kenya’s economic development by reducing unemployment, raising national GDP and improving the country’s balance of payments. Multinational corporations have engaged in horizontal integration by leasing, management contracts, franchising and marketing agreements for hotels, and vertical agreements between hotels, airlines, tour operators and travel agencies. Air transport has been significantly impacted by expansion and redevelopment of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), Kisumu International Airport and the increase in airlift 24 services as new airlines and charters have started operating within the last five years, opening new local, regional, and international routes.
Operation of in-bond shops, located within airports, enables tourists to access duty-free shopping and carry a wide range of imported luxury goods and souvenir items.
In conclusion, the world tourism industry is highly globalized and extremely competitive. Improving the laws to attract foreign investment, fostering private-public partnerships in hospitality, and investing into marketing the Zimbabwean brand in the international market, could be milestone in gaining more traction in the country. With unmatched natural beauty, Zimbabwe can become a first-choice tourist destination in Africa.
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