I RECENTLY had the opportunity to visit Zimbabwe for the very first time. Zimbabwe is a country that when mentioned you are very likely to associate with a dictatorial president, flying inflation, beating of the opposition and many such negative connotations.
I was curious therefore to know what was different when I was invited by the President of TOUGHA Mrs. Nancy Sam Quartey to come along to Zimbabwe as part of an international media team.
That trip opened my eyes to many things that the southern African nation has to offer and here below are five things we learned and I believe we can derive some knowledge from in our quest to deepen our tourism development.
THE NEED FOR A TOURISM FORUM:
The main purpose for which we were in Zimbabwe was to participate in the country’s decade old tourism and hospitality forum known as Sanganai Hlanganani World Tourism Expo organized by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority. It was the second time the forum was taking place in second largest city of Bulawayo, after the previous eight had taken place in the national capital of Harare.
Sanganai, as everyone in Zimbabwe refers to the forum, is a tourism market event compared to the likes of World Tourism Market (London), ITB Berlin, INDABA (South Africa), Magical Kenya, etc. in the sense that it brings together players across the value chain of the tourism trade.
Albeit on a smaller scale compared to the others aforementioned, it gives opportunity to tourism market operators to exhibit their products and services and to create meetings for exchange of ideas, make deals and or form partnerships with both local and international companies and individuals that would enhance each other’s business.
I have realized, since getting involved in this tourism promotion and marketing, that all countries on the continent that take tourism serious have something of the sort. Some of the giants in the business such as South Africa and Kenya have theirs, but also smaller countries including the likes of Rwanda, Uganda, Botswana, and Mozambique have theirs too.
If for nothing at all, it opens up the country for visitors and it create an opportunity to enhance the tourism promotion and I can’t say this enough that we do need one!
AN OPPORTUNITY TO SELL GHANA:
Ghana as a country that seeks to draw people to experience what it has participated in the Sanganai this year through the Ghana Tourism Authority and the Tour Operators Union of Ghana (TOUGHA).
Led by its President Mrs. Nancy Sam Quartey, the TOUGHA facilitated this trip with the support of the Zimbabwean High Commissioner to Ghana Her Excellency Pavelyn Tendai Musaka, who spent a lot of time in Ghana stand to help promote the country of her service to Zimbabwe.
The Ghana stand was a beehive of activities as exhibitors and others thronged to see what they could gather about the country, as a few questions about Kente and taste the Nkatie Burger that GTA officials had in abundance at the stand.
Indeed on the second day of the forum, Ghana was given the opportunity to showcase what it has in cuisine and culinary skills. Mrs. Nancy Sam and the team prepared various Ghanaian dishes including waakye, gari fortor, kelewele, plantain chips, yam and kontomire, etc.
Above all, H.E. Musaka took the time to tell her fellow countrymen and women to visit Ghana and West Africa to, among other things, learn about the history of the continent through the European slave castles that are located here. “For as long as you have not gone to see those slave castles in Ghana or West Africa, you have not discovered yourself as a true African person, whether they are abroad or within Africa”.
A COUNTRY OF WILDLIFE AND NATURAL BEAUTY:
The biggest tourism attraction to Zimbabwe is the mighty Victoria Falls. A group of eight huge falls crashing into the deep crater below with a loud sound and huge vapour viewed from sixteen different spots with sixteen different angles and perspectives.
One of the things anyone living on the African continent should do before they die is to visit the Victoria Falls and maybe, if they have the heart, do the bungee jumping, zip-lining, God swing or any of the other adrenaline inspired activities that’s an industry around the Victoria Falls enclave.
However, the realization as one goes further away from Victoria Falls to other parts of Zimbabwe would be the fact that there are other places worth visiting and that it is really a very beautiful country with scenic views and awesome scenery all over.
That Zimbabwe has massive numbers of wildlife is not an issue at question. It has massive numbers and different types of antelopes including impalas, kudus, steinboks, waterbucks and others; also in the wild in Zimbabwe are huge numbers of predators including lions, leopards, wild dogs, hyenas and more; then there are the likes of giraffes, zebras, warthogs, hippopotamuses, rhinos and elephants.
There are several national parks that are home to these wildlife and they are protected from poachers, although it is a tough fight between the rangers and poachers, but they do their best to protect the animals in the wild.
We had the opportunity to visit two national parks: Hwange and Matobos and got up close and personal with some of these animals. At Hwange our delight was to see wild dogs that had not been sighted in three months and huge numbers of elephants as well as giraffes.
But the height of it all was at Matobos where we tracked rhinos and eventually found a crash (a group of rhinos) grazing and from about 50 metres to where they were we took photos. It was a great experience of wildlife tourism.
DEVELOPING TOURISM INFRASTUCTURE:
Tourism is one of the largest contributors to the USD16billion economy of Zimbabwe, indeed the second largest and they understand that to either keep it at that or push it to the top, there is the need to ensure that infrastructure to tourism sites are improved.
For the places that we visited on this trip: Victoria Falls, Hwange, Bulawayo, Matopos, Gweru and Harare, there are fairly good road infrastructure that links the various places. Zimbabwe also has a good railway system that serves the various cities and tourist could use that as a means of transport to access destinations and experiences.
It is even heartwarming that the keynote speaker at the Sanganai Hlanganani World Expo, Hon. Patrick Chinamasa (who was the Finance Minister until a reshuffle last Monday) underscored the fact that the government would improve the infrastructure to such places, adopt an open sky policy, set up a revolving fund for tourism operators, etc. all to improve tourism.
THE MUGABE FACTOR:
If there is any particular lesson I picked on this trip it is the fact that sometimes living in other parts of the world and reading or watching news of things from other parts may not be a good test of the reality of how things are.
There is a huge view out there about the insecurity of foreigners all because of the highhandedness and dictatorial tendencies of President Robert Mugabe. During the eleven days that I was in Zimbabwe, I travelled with foreign journalists from different countries: USA, Australia, Germany, Ghana, Nigeria and South Korea and in time we all realized that we couldn’t be living in a more peaceful country.
We did everything that could be done in any country including roaming the streets, shopping at the mall, going to eat out and going to the night club. For many Zimbabweans, the issue of their President is one to be laughed about.
He is a good meme material for the internet and social media and as one Zimbabwean told me “we keep him there for some of these things” while showing me a viral video of Mugabe walking the to the podium with swagger at the UN General Assembly recently! Forget Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe is a beautiful country with beautiful people and you should visit.