Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi says Zimbabwe must open its borders and skies if it wants to achieve the $5 billion tourism economy within five years.
“We have to review very vigorously this aspect of regulation of entry through visas,” he told Parliament.
“The Minister seated on my right, Minister Mpofu is doing a fantastic enabler job for tourism, through the Victoria Falls Airport. It is going to be the game changer for tourism going forward, but if we do not assist the good work that he is doing by opening up, on the paper side, the processing of entries into the country, then we are rendering his very beautiful project into a white elephant.
“So, the policies must speak to each other. We must have mega airports, port of entries and hubs, but they must be facilitated and they must be enabled in terms of translating them into dollar value through basically, the waiving of visas.”
Mzembi said the waiving of visas had already started with Zambia. The next step will involve Namibia, Angola and Botswana. The third phase will cover all the Southern African Development Community countries.
+MRS. MISIHAIRABWI-MUSHONGA: My question is directed to the Minister of Tourism… –[AN HON. MEMBER: Inaudible interjection]- Did I hear you correctly that you said I should not speak in Ndebele?
THE ACTING SPEAKER: Order Hon. Misihairabwi. You can only speak to the Chair but I would want to appeal to you to speak in English as the Hon Minister is not versed in Ndebele and I know that you are able to speak in all the languages. May you ask your question in English so that the Minister can understand your question?
MRS. MISIHAIRABWI-MUSHONGA: I will do so Madam Speaker, but I think that he should be able to understand Ndebele. I think he said he understands Ndebele.
+I would like to ask the Minister of Tourism why when investors come to Zimbabwe face visa problems. How do you work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs so that when investors come in, they do not have problems? Some Chinese were chased when they came here. What are you doing to rectify that matter?
THE MINISTER OF TOURISM AND HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY (ENG. MZEMBI): Madam Speaker, I am born to a Ndebele mother and a Karanga father. For the benefit of the greater audience because her question is really international. I would plead that she just recasts it in English and I know that the Ndebele audience from my mother’s side will benefit from the answer in English. So, may I plead with the hon. member to just recast it in English.
THE ACTING SPEAKER: I thought I had already given a ruling on this issue. Hon. Misihairabwi, can you please assist the Hon. Minister because he does not understand the language.
MRS. MISIHAIRABWI-MUSHONGA: It is interesting that born of a Ndebele mother he still cannot speak Ndebele. The question really related to the issuance of visas, particularly for tourists and investors because clearly, they are having problems in our embassies that are outside when they are trying to come into the country. Some are actually being deported at the airport when they are here, when they are supposed to be given visas at the airport. What are you doing between yourself and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure that we facilitate for people to come into this country because it has become a problem.
THE MINISTER OF TOURISM AND HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY (ENG. MZEMBI): Thank you Madam Speaker. I think I will take advantage of the hon. member’s question to just cast our vision and wish list in tourism regarding free and open travel. It is premised philosophically by a very ancient (prophet), Prophet Isaiah in the Bible. He says in Chapter 60 verse 11 and I am happy that verse actually speaks to a nation that is about to rise and shine, so it is an arise and shine chapter. Verse 11 says, “Keep thy gates open. Do not close them during the day nor during the night so that you may enjoy the wealth of the Gentiles with their kings and procession”.
Today, the UNWTO, where I sit as Co-President, we have translated this verse to mean a modern day palentis; open borders, open skies and ideally, if you want to enjoy tourism income you must stretch your arms and welcome the world. The only impediment to welcoming the world which regulates entry is the visa system. Now, those countries that have migrated to excellence in terms of openness, countries like Malaysia and Seychelles which are purely and absolutely tourism economies, they have actually diversed completely with the visa. In other words, they process people on entry.
So, if we want to meet the US$5 billion tourism economy that I have sign posted for the sector going forward to 2020, we have to review very vigorously this aspect of regulation of entry through visas. May I just remind hon. members because I know they travel a lot that what we dream for Africa in Vision 2063 is what we are pursuing, which is an African schengen where, if you enter the Cape you have entered Cairo; free movement. We do not wish to see an Africa that respects the boundaries that were imposed on us by the partitioning of Africa because what it does, is just to limit the free movement of people and in movement of people that is where the revolution is. There are only two revolutions of our contemporary times because the radio, telephone and others have been discovered; ICT and travel.
Going forward, I dream of a future where London would be to Harare, not what we have out there. I saw something which says London-Harare nonstop, not in 2015. I dream of a future where we can, through rocket science, shorten the distance through ICT and development of rocket science to five hours. Now, tourism will only happen then, because her question is very important, when we are able to admit as many people into our country as possible. Our policies must speak to each other.
The Minister seated on my right, Minister Mpofu is doing a fantastic enabler job for tourism, through the Victoria Falls Airport. It is going to be the game changer for tourism going forward, but if we do not assist the good work that he is doing by opening up, on the paper side, the processing of entries into the country, then we are rendering his very beautiful project into a white elephant. So, the policies must speak to each other. We must have mega airports, port of entries and hubs, but they must be facilitated and they must be enabled in terms of translating them into dollar value through basically, the waiving of visas.
We have one war that we have not won Madam Speaker. We have won the ICT war. In the year 2000 when the electronic tickets started, it was almost like a joke because you were used to taking paper tickets to the airport and presenting them. Now we just walk through and we present our passports. That is electronic travel. Now, in Minister Mpofu’s re-arm, by year 2020 the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has stated that we will have electronic boarders.
Now, you cannot access an electronic boarder with a manual paper. So it means we will have electronic boarders, electronic passports and electronic visas by year 2020. So, the question she asks is so important to the extent that we must see that future which will not require us to process visas otherwise, we create a queue at our ports of entry when the whole world would be admitting people freely.
So, in short Madam Speaker, we are going to waive this dispensation of visas going forward and it has started with our own pilot project with Zambia. If you are in Victoria Falls and two other port of entries, you can now only deal with one visa between the two countries.
The second pilot project in our region will involve three other countries, Namibia, Angola and Botswana. We go to phase 3 which will be the entire SADC region. So we will not have a visa in SADC, but it will not just be this region; it will be all the regions in Africa. The consolidation of which will be a visa less or visa free Africa, but we must win the security war. It is the security people who have restraints about free movement of people. We must convince them that it is possible to process people on entry, but terrorist threats in the world are not helping this fight. So you find where we have made sufficient progress like in the East African Community, Alshabab threat to Kenya has forced them in the last fortnight, to reverse those gains that they had registered in the last five years. They cannot just admit people freely anymore because of the terrorist and security threat. So we have to make a balance of things and at the end of the day, it must be a win/win for both security and free movement of people. I thank you.