Zimbabwe's tourism triumph turns sour
Zimbabwe's bid to host the United Nations World Tourism Organisation's general assembly in Victoria Falls next year is uncertain after a senior tourism official last week made startling revelations that the country had lied in order to win the bid.
Zimbabwe beat contenders Russia, Turkey, Jordan and Qatar to co-host the event with Zambia.
Sylvester Maunganidze, the tourism and hospitality permanent secretary, made the revelations before a parliamentary portfolio committee. "We were competing with big nations, so we went with pictorial evidence which was exaggerated and we won, but now it is a reality and we have to meet the standard presented," he said.
UN officials are expected to visit Zimbabwe this month for a progress report because the general assembly will take place in a year's time. Close to 5 000 international guests from the 155 countries affiliated to the World Tourism Organisation are expected at Victoria Falls.
Walter Mzembi, the Zanu-PF- linked tourism minister, initially indicated his ministry's intention to build a state-of-the-art international convention centre with hotels, golf courses, shopping malls and a conference centre at a cost of $1-billion. No work has started thus far and the Victoria Falls town council has pointed out that it also needs $9-million to rehabilitate worn-out roads in the town.
The refurbishment of the Victoria Falls Airport is also at a standstill, and the completion of the Joshua Mqabuko International Airport in Bulawayo continues to drag on 10 years after the project started.
The cash-strapped unity government, which has been affected by a slowing economy underpinned by Finance Minister Tendai Biti's recent revision of economic growth targets from 9.4% down to 5.6%, is unlikely to channel adequate funds towards financing the construction of the convention centre. Biti has allocated $1-million for the construction of the new venue.
"Most of the money promised is still on paper, making it difficult to develop Victoria Falls to the levels we were aiming at. Until such funds are made available, I will be selling an imaginary Victoria Falls," Maunganidze said.
An angry Mzembi this week hit back at Maunganidze, saying Zimbabwe's bid to host the general assembly had been undertaken in a "fair and transparent way".
"The team around the preparation of this event must desist from issuing statements of a policy nature that undermines the credibility and authenticity of this important international event."
Political observers said the problems affecting Zimbabwe's bid to host the assembly would dent Zanu-PF's image. The party had scored significant political mileage from announcing President Robert Mugabe as the World Tourism Organisation's "tourism ambassador" after it signed a memorandum of understanding with Zimbabwe and Zambia. Organisation officials later denied that they had appointed the 88-year-old Mugabe as a representative of their organisation in any capacity.
Political analyst Dumisani Nkomo said: "It's election season and Zanu-PF will be wary of how these blunders make it appear. It doesn't want to preside over anything that will be less than successful, so we will see it trying to chip in to make the general assembly a success."
Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said: "I'm sure all the minor challenges will be sorted out quickly and the country will be able to hold a successful summit."