Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi yesterday blasted war veterans’ leader Joseph Chinotimba for continuing to tarnish the image of the country when the government was fighting to attract tourism ahead of the 2010 World Cup.
Chinotimba organised war veterans last week to protest against the drive to repossess farms and farming equipment given to new farmers by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe from those who were not productively using them.
Farm invasions led by war veterans in 2000 disrupted the whole agricultural system resulting in the West imposing sanctions on the country and cutting aid as well.
Speaking at a business conference organised by the National Economic Consultative Forum at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in Bulawayo yesterday, Mzembi said his ministry was doing everything to take advantage of the 2010 soccer World Cup to he held in South Africa.
He called on the business opportunity to capitalise on this mega event because the next event of its size in Africa would only be held in 2034.
Mzembi said his ministry had lobbied strongly for the lifting of travel warnings by the West. So far, the United States, Britain, Germany, Sweden and Japan had lifted these travel warnings. The European Union was likely to follow suit in a week or two.
“We are now regarded as a free, very safe and secure destination. We don’t need the kind of publicity we are getting from my own brother Chinotimba. We do not need this now,” he said to applause from the business people attending the conference.
He also castigated the media for giving Chinotimba’s demonstration coverage because Zimbabwe was trying to repair its battered image which had seen tourism decline rapidly.
At one time 45 airlines were flying into the country but this was now down to seven. Tourism had also become one of the major contributors to GDP but last year it was down to 5 percent.
Mzembi said the country had two million tourists last year, down from 2.5million the previous year. It earned US$294 million compared to US$365 million in 2007.
The minister said tourism was critical for every sector in the country. The 2010 cup offered opportunities for the construction industry, the manufacturing sector and the service industry.
He said Zimbabwe should improve its water and sewerage systems because tourists were scared by the recent cholera epidemic. It should also improve its health services as well as the availability of accommodation.
South African had indicated that it would need 40 000 rooms for the World Cup which is now exactly 12 months away but a survey had indicated that only 10 000 were available. It was therefore up to business to provide the additional rooms needed.
Mzembi also called on the financial sector to reintroduce the use of plastic money because it was inconvenient for tourists to travel with cash.