Zimbabwe must open its borders and skies to capture a slice of the 300 million tourists inspired to travel for spiritual or faith-based reasons, Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi says.
Responding to questions in Parliament about what Zimbabwe was doing to capture the increasing number of religious tourists, Mzembi said the spiritual and philosophical foundation of the Tourism Ministry was aptly captured in Isaiah Chapter 60:11 which states: “Keep thy gates open, do not close them during the day; do not close them during the night so that you may enjoy the wealth of the gentiles, with their kings in procession”.
He said Zimbabwe was rapidly opening its skies. “We are now at 16 international carriers landing into our destinations. The target is to go back to our all-time high, which was in 1999, when we had 48 international carriers landing at Harare International Airport. At that time, Harare International Airport was actually busier than OR Tambo. It is the desire of this government to get back Harare’s internal air traffic hub status, together with Bulawayo and Victoria Falls. Then from there, we can distribute arrivals internally to other destinations in the country.”
He said Zimbabwe was also trying to open up its land borders through a uni-visa that would include Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It would also honour existing arrangements such as that between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
“Just to put this issue of visa facilitation into context, in 2010, the G 20 countries, their top tourism economies commissioned a Visa Open study, whose results were unveiled just three months ago. They established that by opening up visas in the last five years, through the Visa Liberalisation Policy, they have managed to enhance earnings within their club of 20 countries by US$206 billion and in the process, creating 5, 1 million jobs. We need a similar study for Sub-Saharan Africa that can guide us at policy level as to which direction we should go in terms of opening up.”
Q & A:
MS. ANASTANCIA NDHLOVU: My question is directed to the Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Hon. Minister Mzembi. I would like to find out from him Madam Speaker, what Government policy and attitude is towards religious tourism, recognising that out of every ten visitors to Nigeria, for example, six will be visiting Prophet T. B. Joshua? I thank you.
THE MINISTER OF TOURISM AND HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY (ENG. MZEMBI): Thank you Madam Speaker. I wish to share with Parliament on the back of the hon. member’s question that Cabinet, post UNWTO General Assembly, directed the Minister to pursue religious tourism. As you will be aware, we are busy doing that.
Manifest to that, is Government’s endorsement this year of Prophet Makandiwa’s ‘Judgement Night’. It was a policy decision to back that aspect of tourism. In line with the new tourism policy which shall be launched on 24th July at the Celebration Centre and to which I am now extending an invitation to Members of Parliament to come and witness this official launch of the new tourism policy; we shall also be unveiling the new thrust on religious tourism. Going with that, to demonstrate our seriousness and our practical walking the talk in this aspect, will be the designation of the Celebration Centre as a religious tourism facility and tourist attraction. This will be the second such designation after the first inaugural designation of the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) Mbungu in Masvingo which was done two years ago.
In terms of policy thrust, I think the Bible itself aptly captures religious tourism and it was said by none other than Jesus Christ himself when he said that, ‘a Prophet is not without honour except in his home country’. It is that particular biblical verse that is inspiring the movement of people from one pole to the other as people seek spiritual solutions from distant prophets. It does not surprise us that we have traffic flow into Nigeria pursuing Prophet T. B. Joshua. We also have our own gains into this country in the likes of the local prophets who are also attracting their own traffic and I know of Prophet Makandiwa, Prophet Magaya and others on a weekly basis. They do host a lot of international visitors who are seeking spiritual solutions to their recurrent problems, many of them that the conventional medical sector is not able to respond to.
As Government, we have extended in order to encourage religious tourism, two Statutory Instruments, 172 and 173 that covers the incentivisation of the hospitality sector to the religious sector. In other words, church-inspired and faith-based business can now ride on the back of these two Statutory Instruments in order to grow their faithbased business opportunities. Here, I cite convention centres, restaurants, transport business because the church itself has become a market. Two weeks ago, we witnessed 180 thousand parishioners along the Masvingo highway near Waterfalls where Pastor Magaya was ministering. If you have 180 thousand congregants and each one of them buys a bottle of mineral water at $1, that is already US$180 thousand in circulation on a single product line called ‘water’.
Those people, when they get to Waterfalls or when they get to a ‘Judgement Night’ function have to board kombis. Recently, I had a meeting with kombi operators where we established that if two or three churches, on a weekend decided that they will not be having a church service, the transport sector, on a weekend in Harare would certainly catch a cough. It will sneeze because the movement of people that takes place through kombis and other conventional means of transport going to these churches on Sundays is one without precedent today. Therefore, the Government has also extended incentives to the church so that they can import motor vehicles of this nature duty free but provided that those businesses that have been assisted and aided by the State, through those incentives, should also give to Caesar what is due to Caesar in the form of taxes. I thank you Madam Speaker.
MR. MAHLANGU: Thank you Madam Speaker. Minister, following up on the events that happened a month ago of the Johane Masowe scenario in Budiriro, as you know our Constitution promotes freedom of religion; in your effort to promote religious tourism, do you not think that is going to affect your plans to pursue your agenda of introducing religious tourism?
ENG. MZEMBI: I would like to thank the hon. member for this question. The State, through the Ministry o f Tourism and Hospitality Industry, in administering this religious tourism desk, does not involve itself in doctrine issues, that is in church doctrine issues. If I recall, the issues at stake that clashed the police and the church in question were of a doctrine nature and were of a law and order nature. In this instance, we do not get ourselves sucked in such issues. We operate at a level above doctrine issues in terms of facilitation of church-inspired business to grow and we do not get ourselves involved in the doctrine of churches. I thank you.
DR. LABODE: In order to successfully attract tourism through religion or huge conferences, you have to have a very user friendly border post. I just happened to be one of those who have been to Nigeria, you find that when you arrive a full plane of pilgrims to TB Joshua, you are stamped in and then quickly you get to the embassy to get your visa. But in Zimbabwe, we have so many prohibitive issues. It would be very difficult to invite foreigners for a conference, it takes you years. A lot of people who would want to come for the conferences do not come because they cannot come to Zimbabwe. Therefore, what measures will you put to ensure that indeed, we benefit from this by allowing people, Christians to come through?
ENG. MZEMBI: The hon. member has asked a very important question. Out of the world’s 1, 1 billion arrivals, 300 million are inspired to travel by spiritual or faith based reasons. So, it is a very important factor to the extent that Government must take a position on opening borders and opening skies. The spiritual foundation and philosophical foundation of the Tourism Ministry, as I inspire and run it now, is aptly captured in Isaiah Chapter 60:11 “Keep thy gates open, do not close them during the day; do not close them during the night so that you may enjoy the wealth of the gentiles, with their kings in procession”. Prophet Isaiah was speaking to the children of Israel to say that if you want to enjoy the wealth of other nations, you must do so with open arms. That now is translated into modern day tourism parlance to mean open skies and open borders.
So, we are busy and are seized with that, first on open skies through our compliance with the Yamoussoukro Declaration, which compels African nations to open up their skies. Government is proceeding rapidly towards opening its skies; we are now at 16 international carriers landing into our destinations. The target is to go back to our all-time high which was in 1999, when we had 48 international carriers landing at Harare International Airport. At that time, Harare International Airport was actually busier than OR Tambo. It is the desire of this Government to get back Harare’s internal air traffic hub status, together with Bulawayo and Victoria Falls. Then from there, we can distribute arrivals internally to other destinations in the country. So, that is one aspect on international air access and destination accessibility.
On the facilitation of the visitors, once they have landed, Government is pursuing at pilot stage, right now, a uni-visa between us and the Zambians on the back of the successes of the UNWTO General Assembly. I am hoping that by the time that President Mugabe presides over the SADC summit, that uni-visa pilot project will be operational. However, going beyond, we are going to extend it to the Kavango, Zambezi Trans-Frontier Conservation Area, which we commonly refer to as the KAZA so that the following countries will enjoy this uni-visa system. These include Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe but we are also cautious of the fact that African countries between themselves, through bilateral understandings, have opened up to each other, as is the case with Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Just to also put this issue of visa facilitation into context, in 2010, the G 20 countries, their top tourism economies commissioned a Visa Open study, whose results were unveiled just three months ago. They established that by opening up visas in the last five years, through the Visa Liberalisation Policy. They have managed to enhance earnings within their club of 20 countries by US$206 billion and in the process, creating 5, 1 million jobs. We need a similar study for Sub-Saharan Africa that can guide us at policy level as to which direction we should go in terms of opening up.
I am also happy to share with you Madam Speaker, that in terms of openness to destinations, East Africa has registered far greater gains than us and am referring to Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania. It is a benchmark study that we are already following in Southern Africa, to see if we can get to those levels of openness, so that we can also enjoy the wealth of the Gentiles. Thank you.