Walter Mzembi has a king-size tourism challenge to address Part 2




Geoffrey Nyarota

A former Herald Editor, Ray Mungoshi, is now based in Lesotho, where he is an editor with Public Eye Newspapers:  He said South Africa was doing a splendid job of marketing Victoria Falls as part of a package holiday in South Africa to Europeans.

By Geoffrey Nyarota

“The tourists spend more time in South Africa and are flown to Livingstone in Zambia for two nights,” he said, “They cross the Zambezi for a few hours into Vic Falls before flying back home. Like you found out in the United States, some of the Europeans I interact with, very well educated too, think that Victoria Falls is somewhere near Kruger National Park.”

A former Herald sub-editor, Ropafadzo Mapimhidze, said she thought tourists were getting a raw deal from the Zimbabwe police.

“Tourists are harassed by the police. My friends from Zambia have vowed never to visit Zimbabwe again. One friend from Lusaka had a row with a cop near the Westgate Roundabout along Lomagundi Road. It only stopped when he mentioned that he was calling a relative of Vice President Mnangagwa, who was his friend. That’s when they let him go.”

Rex Mphisa, formerly News Editor of The Herald and now a correspondent for NewsDay in Beitbridge, said: “South Africa has better marketing policies, with a government department specifically mandated to do that. Zimbabwe has Karikoga Kaseke to match.”

Chorus Nyamakunda was a television producer at ZTV before his departure in 2001 for the United Kingdom, where he is now a social worker. He said he did not believe that the professional work of journalists in Zimbabwe was the cause of the low tourist numbers.

“The tourists that Zimbabwe so desperately needs to attract are more influenced by news coverage in their respective countries,” he said, “rather than the publications in Zimbabwe.

“I personally always talk positively to people here about our country’s natural endowments and its friendly people. The potential tourists counter this by referring to publication of stories about violence perpetrated by the State machinery against citizens, the personal wealth of the First Family and its life-style as well as the rule of law.”

Nyamakunda said that he visited Gabriel Machinga, Zimbabwe’s then ambassador in London back in 2014, to express his concern about the suppression of press freedom and the impact of political developments in Zimbabwe on tourism, which is sensitive to negative media coverage.

“Our nation needs the big international media organizations that our government barred from reporting from our country,” he said. “Most importantly, the developments in Zimbabwe are very difficult to portray positively. There are too many negative developments, both political and economic.”

Edwin Moyo was formerly a journalist with Ziana. He then became a successful commercial farmer. That was until he was dispossessed of his Kondozi Farm in Odzi, Manicaland, during the farm invasions. Moyo, who is now a businessman and farmer, had this to say: “With due respect, why do we market the Vic Falls from South Africa? The majority of tourists going into Vic Falls are not South Africans but foreign tourists who spend all their money in South Africa and visit Vic Falls for a day or two. What is the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority doing about this and to ensure the money is spent in Zimbabwe?

“It is interesting to know that the Germans were the biggest tourist spenders. Their interest was mainly game viewing. The Americans were the biggest spenders and they spent on hunting safaris. Then came the British who visited Victoria Falls.”

He said the game was no more and this market had now moved to other parts of Africa such as Kenya and Tanzania. With regard to hunting safaris very little was happening in Zimbabwe but they were doing better than Vic Falls. The Vic Falls market had all been taken over by South African tour operators.

“Many South Africans coming to Zimbabwe stay with friends, however” Moyo said. “Then they go to Vic Falls for a day.

“See how our tourism industry has lost the plot. So the carnival becomes their biggest event in seeking to justify their existence. Look at the occupancy figures for the hotels, except perhaps for the Meikles, which has outside marketing. But even that is not great.

“These guys are in these positions just to make money for themselves and have been left like that for too long. So they now even believe in their own lies. Unfortunately, they have been made heroes in the media.”

Former Manica Post journalist, Peter Gwinyai, who is currently a high school teacher in the United Kingdom, says he conducted a survey among Zimbabwean business executives. He says they were unanimous on the need to spruce up the country’s political image.

“Many were of the view that a positive political image helped to market the country externally,” Gwinyai said.

Ish Mwenda, once a Herald sub-editor, now also based in the United Kingdom said: “The South Africans, like the Kenyans, are very clever. They will never say, ‘Victoria Falls is not in South Africa.’ They will tell you, ‘We are just an hour from Victoria Falls.’ The Kenyans will tell you, ‘Come to Nairobi and we will take you to Mt Kilimanjaro!’”

The famous Mt Kilimanjaro is, in fact, in neighbouring Tanzania.

Tommy Sithole, former Editor of The Chronicle and The Herald, had the last word on the issue of Zimbabwe’s tourism woes. His working career as a journalist started in Tanzania, where he worked on the Daily News in Dar es Salaam. On departure from The Herald Sithole served with the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland but is now back in Harare. Possibly the most well-travelled Zimbabwean, with the notable exception of President Robert Mugabe, Sithole served on the board of Air Zimbabwe for many years, back when Messrs Ernest Kadungure, Farayi Masango and Herbert Ushewokunze were successive Ministers of Transport.

“This is all déjà vu,” Sithole said on the issue of the problems faced by Zimbabwe in seeking to attract tourists to the former tourist haven. “Tanzania and Kenya shut their borders and airspace for 10 years over the latter’s marketing of the Kilimanjaro, Manyara and Serengeti. Tanzania even built a whole airport, Kilimanjaro International.

“But if you ask me, it all boils down to gutsy marketing. Our ‘all talk and little action’ tourism people need just check out the documented history about Kenya and Tanzania and plot accordingly. But we’re in for a rough ride if we are to rely on the same people who sold us a dummy about World Cup tourists flooding our country in 2010 and some of the soccer teams coming to camp and train in Zimbabwe.”

He said with reference to tourist visits to Vic Falls, the issue of tourists coming in for just a few hours before “buzzing off” had been brought up on the old Air Zimbabwe Corporation board, when he was a director.

“We raised concerns about slotting;” Sithole said, “that at the time South African Airways arrived in the morning with tourists; parked for the day and left in the evening with the same tourists having spent no bed nights in the hotels. The slotting did change however the bed nights per tourist, which was on average one and half nights. That was definitely not good enough.

“Real tourism is spending nights in hotel beds and spending money in the shops, which really is a problem here. You go to Vic Falls. You visit the falls for three hours and then visit the bridge to watch or partake of the bungee jump for two hours. You then take the so-called booze cruise for two hours before dinner and entertainment until bedtime.

“So, my question on the board was what was it that occupied tourists at Victoria Falls for them to spend a bit of time there? Of course, we need to build around the Falls, give these people reason to hang around, as it were. That’s the key.”

On the prospects of game-viewing Sithole said most of the tourists visited on package tours so they would have seen the animals, anyway, in either South Africa or Kenya.

“It doesn’t help that we have no tourism officers in our embassies and no airline. Airline means one that is part of a large alliance, such as Star, Flying Blue or One World.

“That way, the tourists buy their tickets, say, in Brazil and fly through two or three airlines without having to purchase tickets at every connection. It doesn’t matter how many Boeing 777s Air Zimbabwe acquires, as long as they remain the sole member of Rainbow, no self-respecting tourist will fly from the United States directly to Vic Falls. They prefer airlines that not only give them seamless and efficient connections, but will throw in a bundle of air miles for one to redeem for free flights or for shopping.

“We have to understand that the tourists we are talking about here are no Neymars, who come in their own planes or on charter flights. The vast majority are once-a-year cattle class flight visitors who will save for their next year’s trip to Australia.”

Fabulously wealthy FC Barcelona superstar Neymar da Silva Santos Junior enjoyed a winter holiday in Victoria Falls with his family last June. He stayed on the Zambian side, however. So too did Hollywood star Will Smith who made a surprise day visit to the resort town of Victoria Falls in March, while accruing bed-nights across the Zambezi in Livingstone, Zambia.

The journalists have spoken. It is up to Dr Mzembi to heed their advice or to spurn their recommendations for the future wellbeing of Zimbabwe’s tourism industry. The Zimbabwe government prides itself on its isolationist policies while hailing President Mugabe as the only African leader to stand up to the West. While praising Mugabe at the African Unity, countries such as Kenya and South Africa exploit the profitable opportunities that are created as a result of Zimbabwe’s isolation, especially in areas such as tourism.

Kenya Airways recently introduced a new route, linking Nairobi to Cape Town through Victoria Falls. While Air Zimbabwe is down to its last two still serviceable planes, an Airbus 320 and an ageing Boeing 767, with several aircraft grounded, Kenya Airways, South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines fly the very latest equipment from Boeing and Airbus. They also have partnerships with some of the major international carriers.

Their partners serve the nations where the bulk of the tourists originate. By way of illustration, SAA has a total of 27 Star Alliance, as well as 26 Non-Star Alliance partners. The latter category includes hotels, car rental companies and major credit cards.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority appears to be in need of both a shake-up and a revision of its current strategies for attracting foreign tourists, if Minister Mzembi is determined to achieve his desired vision of Zimbabwe’s tourism. One of the worst mistakes that Zimbabwe ever made was for the Ministry of Information to kick out the BBC and CNN out of the country back then. (Geoffrey Nyarota can be contacted at: gnyarota@gmail.com)