International buyers who came for the Sanganai/Hlanganani World Travel and Tourism fair gave Zimbabwe a thumbs up as a destination, but they were rattled by news of the MDC-T disengagement from Zanu PF. The announcement of MDC-T’s “disengagement” coincided with the official opening of the fair which ended on Sunday.
MDC-T announced last Friday that it was disengaging from Zanu PF until the resolution of outstanding issues – another blow to the inclusive government formed in February. Among the outstanding issues threatening to tear the government apart include the appointments of the central bank governor, the attorney general, and provincial governors.
In his postmortem of the fair Karikoga Kaseke, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) chief executive officer said the MDC-T decision was a blow to the tourism industry. “We are not talking about the merits or not of disengaging but the timing which was wrong,” he said.
Kaseke said investors were interested in pouring in US$2.3 billion to revive the local tourism product, neglected over the years due to the economic crisis. He said as a result of the MDC-T announcement, some possible investors had put discussions with local businesses on hold.
Zimbabwe Council for Tourism president Emmanuel Fundira said interest in Zimbabwe as a destination was overwhelming, but investors were concerned about the political developments in the country. “Investment is something which is sensitive to perception. Inasmuch as we had the interest, we run the risk of losing momentum because of politics,” he said.
Fundira said Zimbabwe was coming from a highly-polarized environment and “any side which shows there is no cohesion disturbs the interest of investors.”
The number of international buyers totalled 234 with more than half (154) coming as hosted buyers. Hosted buyers have their expenses catered for by the organisers. Of the 155 hosted buyers at this year’s fair, 60 percent were new while the remainder were repeat buyers who have been at the fair before. There were 80 non-hosted buyers, the majority coming from Indonesia, Iran, and South Africa. The hosted buyers included German based African Jacana Tours represented by Andrea Münster.
Münster was returning to Zimbabwe after nearly 10 years of having failed to market Zimbabwe as a destination due to the economic conditions prevailing in the past few years. She said in the past, attending the travel fair would not have brought in the desired results as very few people were making inquiries about the destination. Münster said the greatest assets the country had was its people who were warm and loving, adding that she would encourage tourists to “come and have a fantastic experience.”
Of the 497 exhibitors that graced the 2009 edition, 19 were foreign.
Attempts to reflect the inclusive nature of the government did not work according to plan either.
While Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara was the guest of honor at the buyers and exhibitors cocktail, attempts to rope in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to officially open the fair hit the brick-wall after his MDC-T announced on Friday that it was “disengaging” from Zanu PF.
Organisers felt let down by the poor turnout during public days at a time attention had been focused on attracting locals to visit resorts. Kaseke admitted that the organizers had not done much to encourage people to visit the stands.
The 2009 edition of the travel fair was held under the “Visit Zimbabwe First” campaign to encourage locals to visit tourist resorts.