By BRIAN HATYOKA? –
FOR many years now, Zimbabwe has continued to host the Sanganai/Hlanganani World Travel and Tourism Africa Expo which is an important event on the continent and global tourism calendar.
The event is usually aimed at showcasing Zimbabwe’s tourism products to international and regional buyers.
This year, the Expo was for the first time repositioned as ‘Africa’s Premier Business Exchange’ to meet the ever-changing needs of the dynamic tourism sector.
It was hosted by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) at Harare International Conference Centre from October 16 to October 18, 2014.
The re-positioned fair saw a new thrust and focus of providing a business to business exchange earmarked for key decision makers who concluded business deals and established relationships on site.
The event attracted 690 exhibitors mainly Zimbabwean firms, 180 international buyers of tourism products and 18 international media outlets.
A number of workshops also ran concurrently with the exhibition and these included Young professional’s Forum, Professional Conference organisers training workshop, greening the economy, social media marketing and marketing in source markets.?Zambia Tourism Board (ZTB) and some tour operators and journalists from Zambia attended the Expo.
At the end of the event, 23 exhibitors were rewarded for having the best stands that attracted the eye of the visitors in various categories.
ZTB came third in the Best International Stand category while Indian Tourism and the Embassy of Indonesia came first and second respectively.
The Indian Tourism, which was colourfully decorated with that country’s assorted outfits, also won the Best Overall stand.?Zimbabwe’s Khanondo Safari won the Best Tour Operator and the Best Zimbabwe Stand while Air Zimbabwe won the Best Airline award.
The Best Accommodation category was won by Rainbow Tourism Group while Hardwood for Africa won the First Time Exhibitor category with the Best Training Institution prize going to Mutare Polytechnic.
Further, Civil Aviation of Authority of Zimbabwe got the first prize in the Best Public Institution while Chitungwiza Publicity Association got the first prize in the Best Publicity Association.?After the Expo, ZTA took foreign tour operators and journalists on an education tour of Zimbabwe tourism sites from October 19, 2014 to October 23, 2014.
Delegates initially visited the Great Zimbabwe National Monument in Masvingo made out of stones where Zimbabwe derives its name from.
The whole complex, which extends across 720 hectares, is the largest and most significant ancient monument built and developed by the Shona people approximately over a period of 600 years between the 12th and 17th Century.
In Bulawayo, the delegates toured Matobo National Park, an area abundant with White Rhinos as well as cave paintings by Bushmen, boulders and the grave of John Cecil Rhodes among others.
Under the guidance of Amakhosi Cultural Tours, delegates toured Bulawayo Township which is the City of Kings and Zimbabwe’s second largest city with a strong historical significance.
Amakhosi Cultural Tours has introduced a new tourism product where it takes tourists to a number of important historical and cultural sites around Bulawayo in a bid to market the city as a cultural tourism destination.
To sum-up the Bulawayo Township trip, visitors were usually taken to Emganwini where they were treated with special dances and warm hospitality by Nkazimulo Cultural Group to showcase the Zimbabwe culture.
In Hwange, delegates toured Hwange National Park which is the largest national park in Zimbabwe equating to the size of Ireland and California.
Hwange National Park, which has one of the largest elephant population in the world, boasts a tremendous selection of wildlife with over 100 species of mammals and nearly 400 bird species recorded.
Still in Hwange, the delegates also visited the Painted Dog research and conservation centre for wild dogs.?The centre, which is currently housing two adult wild dogs, was operational in 2002 to allow the organisation deal effectively with any eventuality concerning injured, orphaned or trans-located dogs.
At the end of the tour, the delegates visited the Victoria Falls where they viewed the Natural Wonder of the world and participated in boat cruise as well as gorge swings among other activities along the Zambezi River.
Contrary to negative perceptions about Zimbabwe, the country’s tourism products as well as infrastructure and hospitality are arguably unmatched.?Zimbabwe also has a robust and aggressive tourism marketing programme across the country and across the globe.?Speaking during the welcome dinner for the Expo, ZTA chief executive Karikoga Kaseke urged Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states to complement each other and avoid competition to attract more tourist arrivals to the region.
He said a modern tourist wanted to visit more than one tourism destination or one specific country and hence it was important that countries in the SADC complemented each other by jointly promoting their tourism products.
Mr Kaseke noted that the regional body had not attracted many tourists over the last years because each country wanted to outdo the other in terms of attracting tourists.
“We must always emphasise on cooperation and put our resources together so that we attract more tourists than what we are currently attracting through competition as individual countries.?There should be no room for competition among SADC countries because a modern tourist wants to visit Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and even South Africa before going back to his or her country,” Mr Kaseke said.
Mr Kaseke also said it was not wrong to condemn countries which were marketing Victoria Falls besides Zambia and Zimbabwe saying those countries were merely helping the two host countries to receive more tourists.
“These countries are doing a wonderful job and they should keep it up because Victoria Falls is for everyone and it is a gift from God.?South Africa or Botswana or Namibia should even do more to market Victoria Falls because only Zambia or Zimbabwe will benefit when tourists visit the actual Falls,” Mr Kaseke said.
He said a study done by the ZTA indicated that tourists visited the Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwean side for four days and three nights on average contrary to claims that tourists did not spend nights within the destination of the Falls.
Mr Kaseke also urged Zambia and Zimbabwe to consider commercialising the Victoria Falls destination like the case for Niagara Falls in United States (US) to attract more tourists.?Niagara Falls, which is smaller compared to Victoria Falls, attracts about US$30 billion earnings yearly while both sides of the Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe only attracts an income of less than US$ 500,000 annually.?Speaking in an interview, Mr Kaseke said there was need to commercialise Victoria Falls by electrifying the premises as well as putting modern infrastructure and ensuring that water flows were reasonable throughout the year.
Mr Kaseke said Victoria Falls, which is not open to the public in the night, could not attract more tourists in its current state because it was a seasonal activity and it lacked modern infrastructure.
He said Niagara Falls had been commercialised and it was attracting US$ 30 billion earnings annually compared to less than US$ 500, 000 earnings recorded at the Victoria Falls for Zimbabwe and Zambia.
“By any measure, Victoria Falls is far much bigger than Niagara Falls. We have only tried to make Victoria Falls remain as natural as possible which is not helping us.?We need to electrify Victoria Falls and start running it on 24 hours basis instead of closing the premises in the night,” he said.
Mr Kaseke said Victoria Falls had potential to raise more revenue from tourists if the area had electricity, steady water flows, restaurants, accommodation facilities and other modern amenities like the case at Niagara Falls.
“We don’t need the Falls to remain a natural world heritage site as stipulated by United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).?We need to go the Niagara Falls manner and make money for our people and our economies,” Mr Kaseke said.
He said Zambia and Zimbabwe should forgo the US$ 25,000 which UNESCO was giving them yearly to maintain the Falls as a natural heritage site.
Zimbabwe’s Tourism and Hospitality Minister Walter Mzembi, who officially opened and closed the Expo, observed that tourism was an important pillar in improving the economic status of citizens.
Dr Mzembi said tourists across the globe were motivated by trade, investment and leisure to visit various destinations.?He also urged Western countries to avoid generalising that Ebola had killed many people in Africa when such deaths were only recorded in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and some countries in West Africa.
Dr Mzembi, who is current United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and chairperson for the UNWTO commission for Africa, said it was on record that US had also recorded Ebola cases.
More than 30 international buyers of tourism products cancelled their trip to Zimbabwe for the Expo due to fears of Ebola when that country and the rest of Southern Africa have not recorded any Ebola case.
Hotel bookings in Zimbabwe worth US$ 6 million have been cancelled countrywide from the time the deadly disease was detected in West African countries this year.
Dr Mzembi said African Governments have a responsibility to inform the public correctly on Ebola through travel warnings.?He said there was need to provide objective and honest information to tourists so that they make informed decisions.
Zimbabwe Deputy Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Supa?Mandiwanzira said the media should be equal partners with governments in promoting tourism destinations.?Mr Mandiwanzira appealed to the media to provide accurate, timely, relevant and positive information on particular destination so that tourists make informed decisions.
“Some tourists and other important people overseas talk highly of Southern Africa but the local media always portray a negative picture about us.?We suffer because we have had a lot of sensational reporting about Zimbabwe and Southern Africa when things are just okay on the ground,” Mr Mandiwanzira said.
In a separate interview, ZTB marketing director Mwabashike Nkulukusa said his Board was currently now moving more into electronic (e) tourism marketing to attract more tourists to the country.?Mr Nkulukusa, who also attended the Expo, said e-tourism marketing was a sure way of attracting tourists in the global village.
He said more than 70 per cent of travellers’ globally first search for information through internet and other online platforms before they travel to any destination.
“E-marketing is the best way forward nowadays in terms of wooing tourists in this globalised world.?Everybody is going through internet and we just attended a workshop recently where we were reminded that most travellers nowadays first search for information through internet and other online platforms before they travel,” he said.
Mr Nkulukusa was also happy that a delegation of Italian tour operators and tourism journalists were planning to visit Zambia next year to sample the country’s vast tourism products.
“The Italian market for us has been one of the target markets and we want to increase the inflow of tourists from that country,” Mr Nkulukusa said.
Italy’s Sunny Travel managing director Michelina Gabrie Sanquest said she was planning to take several tour operators and tourism journalists to Zambia next year to explore the country’s tourism.
Ms Sanquest said the Italian tour operators would visit Zambia for an educational tour in May next year while Italian tourism journalists would visit the country in September the same year to explore the nation.
Livingstone’s SIGO Adventures and Tour director Walter Joe Syakalonga, who also attended the Expo, said several tour operators across the globe wanted to sell Zambia’s tourism products in their respective countries.
According to Mr Syakalonga, his entity had partnered with the Malawian Style and Zimbabwe’s Khanondo Safari to introduce joint tour packages for the three countries.
By and large, a lot of lessons and experiences have been learnt from this expedition.