Zimbabwean tour operators started receiving business inquiries as Zimbabwe and Zambia prepare to host the 20th session of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly in 2013.
Zimbabwe has been suffering from negative publicity that has impacted negatively on its attractiveness as an investment destination. “This is a very important conference for us. This endorses the country as a tourism destination,” hopes Karikoga Kaseke, CEO of Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA).
During the 19th session of the UNWTO General Assembly in South Korea held October 8-14 2011, Zambia and Zimbabwe won the bid to co-host the next session. About 5,000 delegates from six regional commissions of the UNWTO – Africa, the Americas, Pacific. Europe, the Middle East and South Asia – are expected to attend the conference. The 2013 UNWTO general assembly will be held in Livingstone and Victoria Falls. Currently, the two nations do not have sufficient capacity to accommodate the expected number of delegates for the October 2013 conference.
According to reports, the proposed venues for the event would be Elephant Hills Hotel in Zimbabwe and the Convention Centre at Royal Livingstone in Zambia. Neither venue can accommodate more than 2, 000 delegates. Issues that also immediately come to mind include accessibility of the resort towns by air especially in the wake of challenges bedevilling Air Zimbabwe.
It appears to The Herald‘s senior business reporter Martin Kadzere that there has been reluctance by the government to increase private flights into Victoria Falls and this might cause Zimbabwe to lose out to Zambia. There is also a number of levies and regulations that, the operators claim, affect their capacity to provide an efficient and competitive package to visitors.
Tourism consultant Herbert Nkala warned that lack of preparedness could result in UNWTO withdrawing Zimbabwe’s hosting rights. “As a word of caution, Zimbabwe won the bid to host the [Africa] Cup of Nations some years ago but their rights were withdrawn due to unpreparednes.”
Finance Minister Tendai Biti allocated USD1 million for the preparations. He also made provision to assist the Victoria Falls Town Council to address the water and sewerage issues as well as rehabilitation of roads. “However, while the minister has made a commitment, the USD1 million is far below what the industry had been expecting,” said one tourism stakeholder in an interview with The Herald.
Tich Mudzonga, who presides over the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe and the Inbound Tour Operators of Zimbabwe Association (Itoza), said the sector has been receiving inquiries from its foreign counterparts since success of the co-hosting bid was announced last year. “The industry is already receiving enquiries on possible partnerships from outbound tour operators mainly from the traditional markets in Europe, the United Kingdom and the Americas. Immediately, the perception of Zimbabwe as a tourist destination has skyrocketed following confirmation of winning the bid.”
Mudzonga said the sector should maximise business opportunities as the world’s tourists focused on the two countries.
Africa will be hosting the event for the second time after successfully hosting a similar one in Senegal in 2005.
Now what is the current situation with the hotels in Zimbabwe? The tourism sector is yet to hit 50% in average occupancy rates three years after the country dollarised. Resort hotel occupancies averaged 50,2% over the 15-day period to January 3 while national hotel occupancies were at 38%, weighed down by the low performance of city hotels, according to figures released by the ZTA. Victoria Falls had the highest average of 77%, with about 15,000 visitors in the resort town.
Tich Hwingwiri said the Christmas and New Year holidays were eventful and brought brisk business to the industry. Resort hotels and lodges were fully booked during the period, he said. The highest occupancy average was 99% on New Year’s Eve.
According to Hwingwiri, most of the hotel operators in Victoria Falls attributed the growth in occupancy numbers to the annual Falls Fest, an arts festival, and other promotional packages put in place by operators and bus companies.
ZTA CEO Karikoga Kaseke observes that the tourism sector was coming from a low base where there was negative perception about Zimbabwe, but the situation had improved owing to aggressive marketing by players in the tourism sector. “We are however not happy about city hotels’ performance, (over the festive season) which failed to beat the forecast of 45% occupancy.” City Hotel occupancies over the period were at 28%.
Hotel group Rainbow Tourism Group occupancies were at 33%, with finance director Paschal Changunda saying the period had good occupancies for the resort hotels, which were mostly fully occupied for the period. He said the performance of the city hotels, which were generally quiet during the festive season, broadly diluted overall occupancy rates for the group. Of the occupancies, Changunda said, 70% were local while 30% were foreign visitors.
Rainbow Tourism Group embarked on a $15 million recapitalisation exercise to retire its short-term debt and complete refurbishments projects. Changunda said the company was neither technically insolvent nor in the process of being liquidated. “The company is transacting normally and operations are actually profitable. However, the interest burden continues to weigh the company down and this is part of the reason we want to recapitalise.” The company started at 39% in average occupancy rate and in 2010 it was between 40-42% and is now around 47%.
Apart from targeting occupancy rates, another direction to consider for the tourism sector in Zimbabwe is focusing on untapped destinations like the sites of religious significance in the country.
Something is already being done in this realm. The Zion Christian Church (ZCC) Mbungu shrine situated in Masvingo was certified last year as a religious tourism shrine by Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Engineer Walter Mzembi. He said, “Locally, we have the Johanne Marange Apostolic sect that attracts huge numbers on annual meetings in Manicaland. They attract people from other countries and we look forward to ZCC growing in other countries.”
Mzembi has set a target of five million tourist arrivals and a 15% gross domestic product contribution from the tourism sector by 2015, a move which he said would be achievable especially with the 2013 UNWTO general assembly visitors drawn from over 200 countries.
Religion in Zimbabwe blogger Joan Musikavanhu adds the following sites to the list. Apostle Guti’s ZAOGA has a prayer mountain in Bindura and Prophet Uebert Angel‘s Spirit Embassy has a prayer mountain off Beatrice road, about 60 km from Harare, called the Eagle Mountain. Roman Catholics go to Mutemwa in Mutoko.
Religious tourism is an USD18 billion hospitality market, and 300 million travelers worldwide go on faith-based vacations, and cruises.
Read here to learn more about the global efforts to promote faith tourism:
About the 1st International Conference on Religious Tourism and Development of Pilgrimage Culture that was held last year in Mashhad, Iran.
The Vatican chooses Mexico for the VII World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Tourism. By doing so, the Vatican may be helpful in the Mexican efforts at improving the image of the country, especially among the US citizens, one of the biggest populations visiting Mexico on holiday breaks.