THE countdown to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly slated for Victoria Falls from August 24-29 has gathered momentum, with Zimbabwe having overcome the elections hurdle. When President Mugabe proclaimed election dates for this year’s harmonised elections, the world tourism family got worried to the marrow.
Western countries had sold the Zimbabwean election brand as violent and uncharacteristically disastrous but when the day came, it sent detractors of the country scampering for cover with shame and disbelief.
There had been a lot of pressure to hold elections after the UNWTO General Assembly but Zimbabweans did not disappoint. There was no violence. The elections were free and fair. There was peace.
The shift is now on the hosting of the event, the biggest ever on the world tourism calendar and the tourism and hospitality industry in Zimbabwe has a few weeks left to put final touches and make the event the most memorable.
The UNWTO General Assembly is the biggest event on the tourism family calendar and is a bi-annual gathering hosted by the 170 member countries on an equal basis, meaning Zimbabwe will not host the event again in more than 300 years, everything else being equal.
A lot of work is being done to spruce up tourist facilities in the Victoria Falls as well as amenities and other complementary services.
With the hosting comes national pride. With the hosting comes the rebranding of Zimbabwe, which for almost a decade has been portrayed as a rogue state, and unsafe tourist destination by the Western media, following a standoff with former colonial master Britain over the land issue.
The internationalisation of the bilateral disagreement by Britain saw its allies – the Unites States of America and the European Union – imposing sanctions and backing the sanctions with a regime of travel warnings and bans.
The move almost brought the tourism and hospitality industry in Zimbabwe to its knees and the hosting of the general assembly is indeed a chance to redeem and rebrand ourselves as one of the safest and most attractive tourist destinations.
In terms of natural attractiveness, the international barometer puts Zimbabwe at number 21 but in terms of tourist preferences and image, Zimbabwe is placed at number 134.