Perception is everything! It is reality to others. Once the image is imbued and deeply embedded in one’s mind, it is near impossible to change or remove without adapting and advancing a radical strategy to counter the status quo.
One of the wonders of Zimbabwe is an opportunity to see wildlife up close and personal.
Zimbabwe is much more than politics and political rhetoric. If you are reading this, you are probably one of many who are tired of persistent negative headlines that scream at you whenever you try to find articles or news on Zimbabwe. The question is, how do Zimbabweans disrupt and dismantle these prevailing negative perceptions about their country? How do they wrestle control of the narrative in order to drive a positive image? Most importantly, how does Zimbabwe redirect, recreate and re-calibrate the narrative from that of a country that is dangerous and in perpetual crisis, to one that is relatively safe, stable and welcoming? This is a challenge that only Zimbabweans should confront and be prepared to tackle as a collective.
While perceptions about the country are a product of serious bias and deliberate misrepresentation by a relentless, well-orchestrated foreign media campaign, they can be countered. The only way to do so would be through unanimous messaging of optimism and overcoming setbacks, a strategy that is a deliberate move away from contentious issues.
More Than Politics
Zimbabwe like other countries is more than its contentious politics. This is a beautiful country which still remains grossly misunderstood. One way to counter the stereotype is by re-calibrating the narrative from negative to positive. Crucial to this is advancing tourism as a narrative, a move requiring collaboration with Zimbabwean media – local and foreign-based.
Shifting focus away from contentious issues does not in any way reinforce the inaccurate perceptions. It is also not a negation of existing challenges or glossing over them. Rather, it magnifies tourism as a constant positive that makes Zimbabwe a great country. Redirecting the narrative showcases the other side of Zimbabwe that is often deliberately over-looked and under-reported. This is the Zimbabwe that is relatively peaceful, welcoming and beautiful, one that is a premier destination with world-class attractions and is a tourist favourite.
However, for the strategy to succeed, it will require unanimous messaging and concerted effort from all Zimbabweans at home and in the Diaspora, including media and other non-traditional sources of disseminating information such as blogs and related social media platforms. The reality is that no one can save Zimbabwe, or has enough vested interest in seeing the country overcome the prevailing status quo other than Zimbabweans themselves.
Tourism as a Narrative
One good thing is that tourism is a constant positive that makes Zimbabwe a great country. It has enough potential to challenge stereotypes and change perceptions, even those of unyielding skeptics. For travellers coming into the country with reservations or preconceived notions, once they arrive, see, experience and return to their respective countries, they immediately become ambassadors of change through their elaborated narratives.
Furthermore, tourism can be a multi-pronged tool if used effectively. The experience alone contributes in the development and framing of a perception that is based on factual evidence, not fictional or presumed. That’s why in the case of Zimbabwe, tourism can be a pivotal tool to challenge stereotypes about the country. For a country struggling with an image crisis, such a strategy can be a conduit by which Zimbabwe is re-introduced to the world as a country worthy to be visited, explored and experienced.
The effectiveness of tourism as a narrative becomes evident once those foreign tourists return to their home countries. While contemplating, remembering, narrating and disseminating their travel experiences, they are able to construct and frame new perceptions based on factual evidence, while dismantling those that are inaccurate and fictional in nature.
Role of Media
Media plays a fundamental role in the creation and framing of perceptions through the manner in which it narrates and disseminates information. It also plays a major role in the changing of perceptions. While it would be unsurprising and almost expected for foreign media to engage in a protracted media campaign against Zimbabwe, it is unsavoury to have media outlets owned and operated by Zimbabweans partake in negative campaigns against their country.
However, even the country’s ardent critics are beginning to acknowledge that constant negativity is a put off that no longer sells, but variety and positive coverage does. Recent dramatic shift in the coverage of Zimbabwe by major media outlets such as CNN, BBC, New York Times, Huffington Post, The Daily Mail and The Telegraph just to name a few, highlights both a recognition and acknowledgement of changing readership appetites, particularly a need to isolate the political from the social and the rest.
Shining a spotlight on Zimbabwe’s tourism has in large part, contributed to a progressive shift in perceptions about the country. For instance, the New York Times recently featured Zimbabwe in its July 2015 article 52 Places to Go in 2015. CNN published two compelling articles on the country’s popular tourist attractions, one on Victoria Falls as Zimbabwe’s tourist “goldmine” while the other featured Great Zimbabwe Ruins.
The Huffington Post, on the other hand, was objective enough to highlight the optimism brought about by the recovering tourism industry while, at the same time, also acknowledging existing challenges the country is facing. Other publications have opted to focus on the uniqueness that makes Zimbabwe a premier destination, with The Telegraph among others, listing Zimbabwe as one of the best rafting destinations in the world.
This shift, no matter how minuscule, deserves to be acknowledged, replicated and even emulated by Zimbabwean media. The shift in emphasis indicates that shining a light on the positive does not mean an abandonment of one’s position. If anything, it creates a certain level of confidence when Zimbabweans take the lead. Although tourism is one aspect that has contributed immensely to a change in perceptions, its effectiveness can be minimal if not supported by local media. Complete effectiveness and huge success is possible, and can be achieved through close collaboration between all players within the tourism industry, local authorities and the media.
Finally, unless Zimbabwean owned, controlled and operated media outlets and blogs show a keen interest and willingness to be at the forefront on shining a spotlight on their country, these stubborn negative perceptions will prevail. If mainstream media is able to acknowledge the limitations of negative reporting and coverage, probably its time our media rethink, examine and reconsider their approach on their coverage of Zimbabwe, particularly the unhealthy fixation with magnifying the negative over the positive such as tourism and other social issues. There is more to Zimbabwe than contentious issues, it’s time the media rose up to the challenge and magnify the good and positive more than it does the negative!
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Courtesy: Great Zimbabwe Traveller