HARARE – More than 1 200 delegates, among them ministers of tourism from 186 countries, captains of the tourism industry, tourist wholesalers and stakeholders are expected to attend the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, UNWTO general assembly set for Victoria Falls from 24 to 29 August.
Zimbabwe and Zambia would co-host the 20th session of the UNWTO and technical experts have already indicated that preparations were on track for the tourism indaba which will officially open at Victoria Falls Hotel, Zimbabwe and close at Sun International Resort Hotel, Zambia.
The UNWTO membership includes 161 nations and more than 300 affiliate members representing the private sector, educational institutions, tourism associations and local tourism authorities.
This is the first time the UNWTO general assembly to be held in southern Africa and the second time it is being held on the African continent after Senegal hosted it in 2007.
A visiting technical team visited Victoria Falls en-route to Madrid where they tabled a positive report on Zimbabwe’s state of preparedness.
The technical team’s visit followed after Zimbabwe and Zambia were given the final endorsement by the UNWTO executive council at a meeting in Serbia.
On the ground in Victoria Falls, hotels, restaurants and stakeholders have over the weeks and months embarked on a massive facelift in line with government preparations.
Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Walter Mzembi told the media at the end of a two-day final inspection visit recently by technical experts from UNWTO headquarters in Madrid, Spain, last month that the critical success factors for the event were peace and stability especially since the country was heading towards elections.
“As per tradition, we do not assess our own state of preparedness — it is assessed by those who have bestowed the rights to host on us and they adjudged it to be satisfactory and our level of collaboration with the Zambians to be excellent,” said Mzembi.
Mzembi believes the UNWTO assembly is important for Zimbabwean citizens as it will benefit the whole nation through its various business off-shoots.
The minister told local media: “It is about national interests. What we are really raising and elevating is branding Zimbabwe and it is brand Zimbabwe which we seek to raise its equity.”
Mzembi added that President Robert Mugabe decided to give the project the national character that it deserves by signing a trilateral agreement with the UNWTO and Zambian president Michael Sata.
“We must take it for what it is, a national project, and an international project for that matter,” said Mzembi.
The Tourism minister said there had been a serious makeover and upgrade of the Victoria Falls town in terms of the road and hospitality infrastructure, adding that about $60 million had been poured into upgrading assets in the resort town.
Mzembi said Mbada Diamonds, Econet and Telecel would also fund some critical elements of the hosting of the general assembly.
“They are funding the official opening ceremony itself which is no less than a $300 000 budget and some surprises that we will showcase to the nation on the day, as well as an engineering feat which we shall showcase,” he recently told local media.
Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) chief executive officer, Karikoga Kaseke says the joint hosting of the UNWTO conference in Victoria Falls will also give local artists the opportunity to be noticed as their efforts are critical in the tourism industry.
ZTA will on August 23, host a carnival in Victoria Falls which will be followed the next day by the Tourism Night which brings together top musicians for a memorable night of song and dance.
Music acts that include popular musicians Alick Macheso, Suluman Chimbetu, Jah Prayzah will grace Tourism Night.
Kaseke told local media: “This is a very important conference for us and this endorses the country as a tourism destination. Music plays a critical role.”
The ZTA boss said courtesy of the UNWTO, Zimbabwe will soon be portrayed as a safe destination adding the conference is an opportunity for image transformation as it is a global event.
“I urge all stakeholders to ensure the event is a success as it requires participation of everybody including local artists.
“Government is already making strides to make sure the event is a success by putting in place structures to monitor preparations for the event,” said Kaseke.
The UNWTO assembly comes at a time Zimbabwe has been awarded the most sought-after prize of Top Emerging Travel Destination of 2012 by the Travel and Leisure magazine of China.
This is one of the major travel awards in Asia which is of international repute.
Zimbabwe emerged the winner in a process that included competition from various destinations across the globe.
The announcement was made recently at a ceremony held in Beijing, China where Zimbabwe was represented by its Ambassador to China, Fredrick Shava.
Arts administrator Marcus Gora said the co-hosting of the UNWTO conference is a great honour for the country and he would like to congratulate the Tourism minister and his team for a job well done.
“There is a lot of speculation and excitement around the benefits of hosting the UNWTO conference.
“However, people should be guided and be sober about the realities of such events. To this end, Zambia and Zimbabwe already have implemented the Chirundu One Stop Border Post and this has reduced the time that one waits to be cleared to enter either country.
“Haulage trucks that used to take two or three days to be cleared at Chirundu now take only about two to three hours. I see this as an opportunity to figure out ways in which all Zimbabweans can participate in tourism."
“The current structure favours only big players like tour companies and the government through packages that do not include urban tourism, eco-tourism and community based enterprises and creative industries.
“Tourism cannot be about sites and animals only since they do not think, tourism can also be about people which will help the world understand us better and open doors to partnerships as peers in this and other sectors,” said Gora.
Broadcaster and actor Nqobile Malinga said as we move closely to the hosting on the UNWTO general assembly, Zimbabweans need to vote peacefully and demonstrate to the whole world that we are a peace-loving nation and God-fearing.
“We must showcase our oneness, creativity, intellectual skills and diverse cultural values as a people so as to attract tourists. All stakeholders, the media, government ministries, traditional leaders including musicians must also help market the country’s tourist attractions,” said Malinga.
Media practitioner Francis Mukuzunga says the best way to win the tourists back is by having tolerance for each other’s point of view at this crucial time.
“Remember by the time the UNWTO comes into being, a new government, from whatever angle, will now be in place and since business had taken backstage during the run-up to elections, everyone will now be in the mood to carry the nation forward once more.
“Zambia has been quiet about its preparations but I guess they don’t have much to worry about, they got total support from government and their infrastructure is intact. As for us, the carnival, if well managed, could save our image as it did in May.
“However, time and finances are truly not on our side,” said Mukuzunga.
Actor and producer Daves Guzha says judging by how the carnival in Harare brought together all the different races and tribes, he “believes with ZTA, strengthening what they did in Harare, will be the ideal launch pad for a new and vibrant Zimbabwe — if done well and inclusively.”
“A peaceful, and Sadc/AU and Zimbabwean accepted vote is the precursor for a successful carnival and undoubtedly celebrator UNWTO.”
Raphael Chikukwa, deputy director at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe could only say: “When you have a wedding in the house, we need our best foot forward to make UNWTO possible.
Arts administrator Daniel Maposa said the first thing Zimbabwe must do is to hold violent free elections.
“Those who would have won must be allowed to lead the country. Image is all what’s important particularly as we go to the UNWTO.