BusinessSectorsRace to get Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls ready for 2013 congress


Posted on Wednesday, 18 July 2012 14:10

Race to get Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls ready for 2013 congress

By Thabo Bhebhe in Victoria Falls
As one of Africa’s top attractions Victoria Falls has its share of high-end hotels, but not enough beds for the 3,000 delegates/Photo/EVELYNE JACQ/HH-REAThe hosting of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation summit in August 2013 is a golden opportunity for Zimbabwe to build on a recent recovery in tourism. But with indigenisation laws deterring foreign investment, will the infrastructure be ready in time?
When Zimbabwe won a bid to co-host the 2013 United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) summit at Victoria Falls, it was seen as a chance for redemption from the pariah-state tag that has deterred tourists. But there are indications that Zimbabwe might fail to take full advantage of this opportunity to put itself back on the tourist trail.

With just over a year to go before the tourism expo, Zimbabwe is lagging behind in terms of infrastructure and logistics. "We have to build a 3,000-5,000-seat conference centre, a big shopping mall as well as 3-and 5-star hotels in the next 14 months. I don't know how we are going to do it," said Sylvester Maunganidze, permanent secretary at the tourism ministry. The conference centre alone is expected to cost $200m.

Victoria Falls will co-host the summit with Livingstone, across the border in Zambia. The programme is still under development, but officials from both countries have indicated Zimbabwe would host the bulk of the activities, including the closing ceremony and most of the workshops.


The country needs a new airport, a casino and a state-of-the-art medical centre, but construction has yet to start and there is no funding in sight. Victoria Falls does not have the facilities to host the more than 3,000 expected delegates. "We are scouting for capital," said Tapiwa Mashakada, minister of economic planning and investment promotion. But foreign investors will have to be lobbied hard to come into the market under Zimbabwe's restrictive indigenisation laws.

Coupled with these challenges, the country's civil-aviation industry is virtually non-existent after the collapse of the national airline, Air Zimbabwe. Foreign airlines are prohibited from operating local routes. After ring-fencing the airline's debt, the government plans to keep a 26% stake and is looking for a partner for the remainder, an investment Mashakada estimated at around $1bn.

The government managed to secure a $164bn loan from China for the refurbishment of the Victoria Falls Airport, but this is considered a drop in the ocean. The runway has to be expanded by at least 4km to handle jumbo airplanes. As April drew to a close, however, work on the runway was yet to begin.

On a visit to Zimbabwe in March, UNWTO executive director Zottan Smoggy was optimistic that Zimbabwe would be capable of hosting the summit. "We are more than happy with the preparations made by the two countries so far," he said, promising to return in August "to deal with the remaining issues".

Walter Mzembi, the tourism minister, put on a brave face. "When we submitted our joint bid, we knew that we would have to erect a state-of-the-art convention centre. I assure the world that the convention centre will be ready come August 2013," he said. Victoria Falls mayor Nkosilathi Jiyane said the projects would create 30,000 jobs.

Road to recovery

The UNWTO was supposed to be the tonic to get Zimbabwe's tourism sector back firmly on its feet. High inflation rates, shortages of basic commodities and attacks on personal freedoms by the government had led to erratic numbers of visitors and a severe drop in revenue from the sector.

Now visitor numbers are up. The sector has begun to recover since the establishment of an inclusive government, and the adoption of the US dollar in 2009 stemmed runaway inflation. Zimbabwe recorded a 10% average rise in foreign tourist arrivals between 2009 and the first half of 2011. Still, visits from the traditional markets, such as South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States, have remained depressed, and a Look East campaign, targeting tourists from China, Malaysia and other South east Asian countries,has seen a sluggish uptake.

Ministers remain optimistic that the sector is on a recovery path, with tourism expected to contribute 15% to the GDP in 2012, up from 9% in 2011. "For now, I have set the ministry a target of 5 million arrivals per year, earning annual revenue of $5bn by 2015," said Mzembi?

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 July 2012 16:45

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