Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Engineer Walter Mzembi

By Nobleman Runyanga

The Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Engineer Walter Mzembi contested the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Secretary General’s position on 12 May 2017 in Madrid, Spain, and lost to Georgia’s Zurab Pololikashvili, despite an impressive 33-nation campaign.

The loss has elicited mixed reactions at home with some opposition supporters claiming that the results reflected that, being a Zanu PF member, he was not electable, while most progressive Zimbabweans regretted the three-vote near miss.

While members of the opposition, as has become their custom, rush to blame anything on Zanu PF, Minister Mzembi did his best to campaign for the position. He carried Zimbabwe and Africa’s aspirations and endorsement. Given this background, one wonders what more electability surpasses that of carrying the mandate of one’s country and the whole of the African Union. The fact that since its inception in 1975, the UNWTO has never had an African for a Secretary General speaks volumes about the kind of odds that were against Minister Mzembi. He rightly blamed his loss to the underlying geo-politics of the UNWTO and other UN bodies as Europe ganged up against him. Those who know how the UN operates would testify that getting the late Egyptian politician and diplomat, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, elected as the sixth and first African UN Secretary General in 1991 was an uphill task.

Now that the election is behind us, it is time to move Zimbabwe’s tourism forward. Every situation is a learning curve and presents opportunities. Minister Mzembi rightly put it when he said that “the electoral loss should not be seen as the end of everything. The bigger picture is our brand that we have upped through the campaign. Zimbabwe and Africa have never been this high in the matrix of world tourism and can see the interest it has attracted.”

For Minister Mzembi, this is the time to use the election campaign momentum to apply his shoulder to the wheel and continue serving his country as before. It is the time to leverage on the publicity which went with the campaign to drive the local tourism forward. It is the opportunity to exploit the positive vibe and publicity which were generated by his campaign activities to take the industry to loftier heights. This is the time to dust off his vision for the Zimbabwean tourism industry and harness strategies to achieve it. Along the road to Madrid he met and networked with many people of influence from various countries whose influence he can use to positively impact on the Zimbabwean tourism sector. He exchanged notes with many high ranking government officials from various countries and can use the strategies and tactics so obtained to exploit Zimbabwe’s natural tourism attraction endowment to bring foreign currency and help in the ongoing economic recovery.

The post-election period is the time for Minister Mzembi to relentlessly pursue his vision for a US$5 billion tourism boom underpinned by five million tourist arrivals and contributing 15 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2020. In 2013, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) Chief Executive Officer, Karikoga Kaseke announced the adoption of the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) concept to drive tourism growth. One challenge to this, however, is the lack of MICE infrastructure in some of Zimbabwe’s tourist resorts. The Eastern Highlands area, for example, despite being endowed with scenic tourist attractions, lacks large MICE infrastructure to host large conferences and exhibitions. This is further compounded by the lack of an airport to enable tourists to fly to the region.

Following the opening of the Victoria Falls International Airport late in 2016, a lot of interest has developed in the town. This has brought to the fore other areas which need attention to increase the town’s tourism utility. This includes building bigger conference facilities. During the 2013 UNWTO General Assembly which was co-hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia, some of the event’s proceedings were held in marquees supplied by event players such as Rooney’s. This demonstrated the need to augment the event infrastructure provided by the hotels in resort towns. All these are issues which Minister Mzembi needs to plan, strategise on and execute to market our beautiful Zimbabwe.

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.