The Hon. Walter Mzembi (Minister of Tourism of Zimbabwe)

18.05.2011 - Interview conducted by Katie Dickmeyer

Q1: The tourism industry in Zimbabwe has experienced rapid growth in the past two years, bringing in visitors from all over the world.  Such a change could have negative effects on the environment. Has the government planned any initiatives to reduce such impacts?

I don’t think it has grown to the extent where it is beginning to impact negatively on the environment. As you know, Zimbabwe is in leadership in terms of sustainable tourism development; the Camp Fire Model in Southern Africa is the lead model in sustainable tourism. It was initiated and developed in Zimbabwe, and it is copied by other countries in the region. There could not be a better example of sustainable tourism than what is currently being done in our country, where men, fauna and flora co-exist very peacefully. We have very sound wildlife management practices and national environment practices; in fact, we have a whole ministry dedicated to the management of the environment in Zimbabwe, which is working in collaboration with other international aid agencies and economic institutions in the world.

Q2: Tourism has enormous potential in a country such as Zimbabwe which has many attractions. However, the withdrawal of funding for refurbishing and development by the EU may be an obstacle to the expansion and development of the tourism industry. How does the government plan to overcome this? Are there other avenues of foreign investment towards this industry?

Yes, I realize that the withdrawal of funding from the EU has also impacted the tourism sector but it is ill-advised to confront the tourism sector in that manner. It was very much a peace sector, a bridge for humanity to keep in touch—it was people-to-people conduct, and I would hope that in the future the EU is able to review as part of its annual review measures the removal of the tourism sector from such punitive action as it has imposed on the rest of the economy. Here in the USA, there is a program that recognizes that you have to serve the tourism sector to encourage communication between governments that tend to punish each other for political reasons, perceived or otherwise. But in terms of alternatives, we are working with other institutions worldwide to see if we can get assistance in the direction of tourism development. I am happy to share with you that Zimbabwe is actually a seat holder on the executive council of the UN World Tourism Organization, and we are leveraging that seat to sell our story to other development agencies worldwide to assist in the development of tourism in Zimbabwe.

Q3: In the past, crime in Zimbabwe has been an issue—this along with events of political unrest may portray Zimbabwe in a negative perspective. Have any efforts been made to address this issue in order to facilitate the growth of the tourism industry in Zimbabwe?

Well, first and foremost, Zimbabwe is a very peaceful haven. Let’s start with the national ratings of hospitality: we are judged to be the world’s most habitable country by the World Climate Agency and that, nobody can take away from us; it is from creation. In terms of criminally motivated crime, we don’t have that at all. I’m sure you know from last year’s reviews of crime out of the World Cup, some countries, our neighbors, were acknowledging as much as 58 criminally motivated matters a day. If you get one a week in Zimbabwe it is quite a rare occurrence. We don’t have criminally motivated violence in Zimbabwe; neither do we have politically motivated violence on the scale that sometimes the media would like the world to believe. I will give two examples: When there were upheavals in Kenya, 1,300 lives were lost and the circumstances were so dramatic that it was shown all over the world. When we had our own share of problems we lost no more than 240 people—now these are not officially acknowledged government statistics; these are statistics coming from the supposedly offended side in Zimbabwe, but the punishment that is admitted to the two countries, Kenya and Zimbabwe, were said by the very same country that plays host to us today, the United States—which is not fair either. We have ZERA, which is the Zimbabwe Economic Recovery Act, as a punishment on Zimbabwe—which they probably don’t have in Kenya to punish them for what really otherwise is a six-fold measure of the same atrocities. So I think it’s a contradiction, but we are moving very peacefully as a country. As you will be aware, through the provisions of the global and political agreement, we have an inclusive government which is a grand coalition of all the major parties that are very present in the legislation and we are governing the country peacefully. And it is progressing. We have been registering economic growth in leaps and bounds in the last two years and things are happening.

Q4: What specifically has the Tourism Ministry had to deal with to overcome these perceptions from the outside community?

Well, we seem to have done well because, by the World Travel and Tourism Council projections for the next decade, they already judge us to be the second fastest growing tourism economy by GDP contribution, second only to China, growing 8.2% per annum and in volumetric leaps and bounds of 850 million US dollars per annum. We calculated in 2010, just under a billion in tourism revenue with 2.3 million arrivals. We hold leadership positions in the executive council of the UN World Tourism Organization and chair the Southern African Regional Tourism Organization and we are leveraging post leadership positions to re-brand the country and we have successfully rebranded the tourism brand in Zimbabwe; our new payoff line is ‘Zimbabwe, World of Wonders’ and it is doing very well. We have launched it in Berlin recently at the ITB we also launched it at the World Travel Market in London, in Spain too and most recently in South Africa and it is receiving tremendous response worldwide.

Thank you for your time.