close this bookThe Courier - N°158 - July - August 1996 Dossier Communication and the media - Country report Cape Verde
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View the documentAfricans seek bigger share of tourist dollar

Africans seek bigger share of tourist dollar

by Godfrey Karoro

Zimbabwe's government is under pressure to encourage greater African involvement in the predominantly white-run tourism industry, which is facing intense competition from neighbouring South Africa. 'Black participation in all sectors of tourism is a priority,' says Environment and Tourism Minister Chen Chimutengwende. 'Blacks have waited in the wings long enough,' he adds, 'and their entry on to centre stage is inevitable. The solution lies in nurturing black entrepreneurship and giving it the material and technical backup to ensure its growth.'

Only 38 of the country's 436 tour operators are indigenous, and most focus on provision of goods and services, particularly transport. African interest in the business was kindled last year when the government identified tourism as one of the sectors which could benefit from an international $74 million credit facility. This prompted enquiries from about 500 potential entrepreneurs. Interest was heightened during the election campaign earlier this year, when President Mugabe's government made an issue of the continuing economic domination of the white community which constitutes less than 1% of the country's 11 million population.

Mr Chimutengwende pledged support for greater black participation, but the government itself is under fire for not doing enough. 'We have a time-bomb and the government should do something about it quickly before it explodes,' says Colin Blythe-Wood, managing director of a tour company and chairman of the Zimbabwe Association of Tour and Safari Operators (ZATSO), referring to the black-white imbalance in the whole economy. 'We are indeed fortunate that this industry, which has perhaps the greatest potential in our economy, is still in its infancy,' he says. He argues that the government holds the trump card, through its ownership of vast tracts of land in national parks, forests and communal areas.

A 1994 Zatso report identified more than 100 sites on state-owned land suitable for development by African tourism ventures. At least half, says Mr Blythe-Wood, were in areas of abundant wildlife, including the 'big five' - elephant, lion, rhinoceros, hippopotamus and buffalo. Other opportunities could be provided he suggests, if the National Park service got out of the accommodation business and concentrated on flora and fauna conservation. 'The government cannot be a referee and a player at the same time. It should sell off its shares in the Rainbow Tourism Group' - a wholly-owned government company which is the third largest operator in the tourism sector.

One of the industry's problems is that South Africa, too, has found tourism to be an unexpectedly good economic performer. Arrivals there rose by 50% in 1995, and a new government discussion document suggests that tourism could double its foreign exchange earnings by the year 2000 and triple its contribution to national income. South Africa's parks and beaches are well developed, but entrepreneurs are also fostering attractions such as Boer War battle sites and 'Road to Freedom' tours in which visitors have breakfast with former freedom fighters.

The fear is that South Africa will be the regional hub for visitors, siphonino off most of the earnings, with

Zimbabwe merely getting the overspill from short side-trips.

Zatso chief executive, Elias Nyakuni, points out that South

Africa is already using Zimbabwe's top attraction to lure visitors, urging them 'to come to South Africa to see the

Victoria Falls'! Efficient train, luxury bus and air services connect several South African cities to the Falls, which are on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border. Mr Nyakuni says that Zimbabwe could also lose out if things go wrong in their southern neighbour. 'Violence in South Africa could deter people from coming to Zimbabwe.' He accuses the government of not taking marketing in Europe and North America sufficiently seriously. 'The 4-5% annual growth is, in essence, through word of mouth. We need to investt more in marketing.' He says that the Zimbabwe Council for Tourism is underfunded and that it operates 'without brochures or pamphlets.' Neverthelms, with 1.25 million visitors last year spending $252m (up from 1.04m spending $203m in 1994) - tourism is a growth area in which black people could take a bigger share - and not just, as at present, as guides, drivers, mechanics and cooks.

Lovemore Chihota, who runs a booming Victoria Falls safari business, has shown the way. He admits that there is a lot of money to be made from tourism, but warns that careful preparation is needed, as well as determination, commitment and, a realisation that there are no quick returns. He also points to the need to have some equity. 'The promoter,' he stresses, 'must put his money where his mouth is.'

G.K.

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