TOURISM minister, Walter Mzembi has accused the World Economic Forum (WEF) of having an agenda against Zimbabwe after the country ranked a lowly 118th out 140 in a Travel and Tourism Competitiveness report.
BY NQABA MATSHAZI
The latest report is proving a bitter pill for Mzembi, as it was released just a few months before Zimbabwe co-hosts a crucial United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly in August this year, which it hoped would help spruce up its image.
“That [WEF report] is a statist done by clerks least connected to what is happening on the ground,” fumed Mzembi. “It has no significance except in the minds of people who seek to conspire to shortchange Africa of its global share of tourism.”
He said the study was deliberately designed to keep Zimbabwe in an unenviable position and deprive it of its fair share of tourism profits.
Mzembi claimed that some of the world’s hotspots, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, were ranked higher than Zimbabwe yet they faced more problems.
“They recycle old and irrelevant images with the intention to deprive Africa of its global share of tourism,” he said. “We cannot be subject to their whims and caprices.”
Despite fuming at the report, the tourism minister conceded that there were areas that needed to be addressed to boost Zimbabwe’s competitiveness.
Zimbabwe was ranked 22nd for its natural resources and World Heritage sites but in most other indices it performed rather poorly, particularly on the policy environment where it seems to have lost much ground.
“Zimbabwe is ranked 118th, up one place since last year, yet with an extremely low ranking for a country that was, until relatively recently, a popular tourist destination,” reads the report.
“The policy environment continues to be among the least supportive of the travel and tourism industry development in the world [ranked 138th], with extremely poor assessments for laws related to FDI [Foreign Direct Investments] and property right.”
The situation is compounded by the fact that there is little faith in the local police force, with tourists fearing for their safety.
The WEF index rates Zimbabwe’s police 120th out of 140, indicating that there is a lack of trust in the police to provide protection from crime.
In August, Zimbabwe, together with Zambia, hosts the United Nation World Trade Organisation summit, but there are concerns that the country may come up short for the event.
Among some of the indicators where Zimbabwe ranks lowly is the government’s willingness to spend on travel and tourism, where only 2, 5% of the budget is set aside for tourism, compared to 16,3% by Mauritius.
The country also seems to be performing badly in promoting itself as an international tourism destination, with Zimbabwe being ranked 90th in the effectiveness of marketing and branding to attract tourists index.
In this category Zimbabwe is rated below average and ranked lower than neighbouring countries Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia.
The quality of airport infrastructure was also brought into question, as with most indices, Zimbabwe performed poorly.
Zimbabwe was again rated below average, ranked 120th and only performed better than Malawi and Lesotho in southern Africa.
The country’s roads and rail infrastructure also performed poorly, both were significantly below the international average.
Mobile money: Zimbabwe lags behind
International travellers were discouraged by the few Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) that accepted globally used cards like Visa and Master Card, complicating life for them when they travelled to Zimbabwe.
A local tour operator, Rodwell Masocha said failure by banks to provide international services was crippling most local indigenous tour operators.
“That is a major disadvantage for us again and the banks need to step up their efforts in that regard,” he said. “The good thing is payments can be done at major hotels and tour operators using visa and Master Card, but then this excludes the majority of lodges and smaller indigenous tour operators.”
Masocha said despite Zimbabwe’s poor rating, the country had made several strides in the past few years and he believed that tourism will play a significant role in the economy in future.