NEXT week, the country will open its arms, ready to receive scores of visitors who will descend on the resort town of Victoria Falls for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly to be co-hosted with Zambia.
When UNWTO secretary general, Talib Rifai announced in October 2011 that Zimbabwe, along with her northern neighbour had won the bid to co-host the assembly, it looked like the country had all the time in the world to prepare for the indaba. But how time flies.
At the time, Rifai stressed the point that the two countries had won the bid due to the commitment and seriousness they displayed, adding that the event was Africa’s chance to show the world that it has more tourism activities, development and innovations than elsewhere in the world.
Now that the UNWTO assembly is upon us, Zimbabwe must demonstrate the commitment and seriousness alluded to by Rifai and show the world its maturity and that of the entire African continent in hosting an event of this magnitude.
With the elections now behind us, the general assembly presents an opportunity for Zimbabweans to tell their own story, hopefully more united and peaceful than was the case before, that the country is open for business from any part of the world.
In the past week, the market has experienced an unprecedented collapse of the stock market, which lost more than US$1 billion in less than one week as cagey investors, not so sure of what tomorrow might hold for Zimbabwe, stampeded for the exits.
In the same week, the banking sector experienced panic withdrawals as depositors took their money elsewhere, unsure of whether the government would maintain the multi-currency regime that brought about stability in February 2009 after years of a meltdown.
Last week, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Gideon Gono pointed out that the agenda post the election period should be focussed on genuinely improving the livelihoods of the people and economically empowering them in a fiscally sustainable way.
“In my view, there is no reason to doubt that sound economic policies will be introduced or pursued and sustained by the new Cabinet soon to be appointed by His Excellency the President (Robert Mugabe). Stakeholders are also advised that the multi-currency regime is not an area of emotional choice or option but rather a measure officially introduced in January 2009 as part of our adaptive economic strategy and a pragmatic response to the challenges of the day,” he said.
“While the hyper-inflation challenge is now a thing of the past, a number other deep-seated challenges which bedevilled the economy prior to 2009 are still with us, hence the need to stay the course. Accordingly, market players and the banking community are urged to stop panicking and instead, get on with their boardroom strategies aimed at prospering their companies and selves in the wake of the new political realities which have been ushered in by the recently concluded harmonised elections,” he concluded by saying.
While Gono, who superintends the financial services sector, was referring largely to the banking industry, his advice also applies to every Zimbabwean ahead of the UNWTO General Assembly since the world is eager to see if Zimbabwe is any different from the pariah State they have been told of.
This is therefore an opportunity for the nation to reinvent itself and prove that the peace enjoyed during the run up to the elections is something that the people of this once great nation are willing and prepared to sustain. This starts by sending the right message to the world and following it up with action.
Against this background, the UNWTO presents an opportunity for every patriotic Zimbabwean to join the likes of Gono who has been calming the markets in the wake of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange crush and the panic withdrawals that hit the banking sector.
There is no better platform for Zimbabwe to open its arms to the world once again than at the 20th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly which will run from the 24th to the 29th of this month.
Tourism has immense potential to alleviate poverty in Zimbabwe, create more jobs and set the country on a sustainable growth path.
It’s an industry with potential to generate US$5 billion by 2015, half the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as at 2011. In the next two years, its contribution to GDP would have risen from 8,2 percent in 2012 to 15 percent. It also has potential to create 1,2 million jobs.
With the stability that followed the adoption of multi-currencies in February 2009, interest in domestic tourism has rebounded albeit slowly as evidenced by the increase in tourist arrivals and the number of airlines that have rekindled their interest in flying into the country.
The 20th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly could be that magic Zimbabwe has been waiting for to give an impetus to its rebranding efforts, hence the media campaign theme It’s Our Time — Showcasing Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls World Wonder.
Zimbabwe’s marketing activities should go beyond showcasing “the smoke that thunders,” which is the Victoria Falls as known by the early inhabitants of the area, given that the UNWTO aims to promote responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism across all our products.
This is why UNWTO has become the leading international organisation in the field of tourism with the specific task of promoting tourism as a driver of economic growth, inclusive development and environmentally sustainability.
Visitors that would descend on the Victoria Falls for the assembly need to be told all that Zimbabwe can offer to the world.
By choosing Zimbabwe to host this event, the world is recognising the country’s potential and its citizens should seize the moment.
This would be the second time that the UNWTO General Assembly is being hosted in Africa since the inaugural indaba was held in 1975 in Spain, which has had the honour of hosting the assembly four times (1975, 1977, 1979 and 1987).
The only other African country to host the event was Senegal in 2005.
By so doing, the world has recognised a strength Zimbabwe has that its people had known all along — that the country has a world class tourism product no other country has.
It was not by accident that Zimbabwe was considered for this event in a continent with 54 fully recognised sovereign states, nine territories and two de facto independent states with limited or no recognition; it’s a confirmation of the underlying potential that Zimbabwe has, which must be exploited for the betterment of all citizens.
We also cannot agree more with those who say it’s an endorsement as well of Zimbabwe as a key African state on the global stage.
We need to take advantage of the UNWTO’s wide membership comprising 156 countries, six associate members and 400 affiliate members representing the private sector, educational institutions, tourism associations and local tourism authorities to get them up-close with all the opportunities that Zimbabwe has to offer.
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