TREASURY should avail more money to the tourism sector to be channelled into marketing the country and boosting economic recovery.
Speaking on their expectations of the 2018 budget, players in the tourism sector appealed to the Government to prioritise the tourism sector in the forthcoming budget to enable the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) to sufficiently market the country.
“We expect the Minister of Finance to increase the budget allocation to the tourism industry, obviously,” said Employers’ Association of Tourism and Safari Operators president, Mr Clement Mukwasi, who is also spokesperson for Shearwater, a tour company based in Victoria Falls.
The ZTA is on record saying that it did not receive enough funding from the 2017 national budget to conduct its marketing programmes. The Ministry of Finance allocated about $2.3 million to the authority, which was largely used for salaries.
Early this year, the former Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Walter Mzembi, was also quoted requesting for one percent of the national budget, arguing that tourism was one of the solutions to the country’s foreign currency problem.
Valerie Bell, director of the Bulawayo Publicity Association, said the ZTA should be adequately funded for it to attend as many travel shows as possible.
“Attending all travel shows in the world is important for the country and the tourism sector,” she said. “This can only be possible if the tourism ministry receives enough funding from the budget. At the moment, the tourism authority may be attending a few travel shows around the world, and a major investment is obviously to our own Sanganai/Hlanganani travel expo.”
Bell said with adequate funding, the sector would be able to also air adverts of the country’s resort areas in international media.
“If the ministry, or the tourism authority, did not have a low budget, they could also advertise some of our resort areas in international media, like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and others, to increase our visibility to tourists,” Bell said. “The issue is that in tourism, there is so much value in marketing, even though the results are not as visible immediately. We need to reach every ear in the world.”
Tour operators said due to inadequate funding of the tourism ministry and the ZTA, they were finding it hard to cope with competition from countries that were adequately funded.
“Local safari operators are finding it hard to cope because they have to source and fund foreign agencies to market their destinations,” said Bell.
“This also has an effect in that tourists will only be informed on the same destinations, which do not encourage the visitation of more places in the country.”
Mukwasi said operators were also forced to resort to using foreign agencies to market resorts and all the activities in the town of Victoria Falls.
“If the coming budget is not enough to enable the ZTA to market the country itself, it is also important that Government prioritises the paying of foreign agencies that are helping us, so that we can continue engaging them,” Mukwasi said. He said the industry had a problem in the past trying to access foreign currency and had to always rely on the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s long waiting list. Mukwasi also said waiting for foreign currency allocations was slowing down business as foreign agencies needed assurance that the sector would be able to pay.
“We are caught up in a situation where we need to be in good books with our international partners so that we don’t lose them; it would be better if we had our own foreign funding because we also bring in a lot of foreign currency,” said Mukwasi.
Economist Butler Tambo said it was important to resolve challenges facing the sector because tourism was a low-hanging fruit and its prioritisation would have a horizontal effect on other sectors of the economy. “Tourism is an important sector and its prioritisation would have an impact on the whole economy,” he said. “When the country is well marketed and tourists are coming, this could have an effect in attracting foreign direct investment as more people would see for themselves what is happening in Zimbabwe.”
Experts say the tourism sector has the potential to grow to a billion dollar industry faster than any sector in the country. Mzembi initiated a tourism master plan, which is meant to grow the industry, multiply revenue, increase employment and inspire sustainable growth to be fully realised by 2035, with an annual growth of five to 10 percent.
Dickson Mangena is a fourth year journalism student at the National University of Science and Technology