Lovemore Chikova — Zimbabwe’s tourism is now leading in sectoral growth with a 11 percent contribution to Gross Domestic Product, displaying remarkable recovery, a Cabinet Minister has said. Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi was speaking during a session of the First World Conference on Tourism for Development held here titled: “Tourism for Peace”. The conference, which ended yesterday, was officially opened by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and also addressed by Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi, who both emphasised the contribution of tourism to peace and development.

More than 600 government officials and stakeholders from 107 countries attended the conference held under the theme “Tourism for Peace and Development”.

Minister Mzembi said the tourism industry was expected to play a major role in Zimbabwe’s economy, with a vision to have a $5 billion tourism boom from five million arrivals, contributing 15 percent to GDP by 2020.

“So, tourism has been the most significant rapprochement and re-engagement tool for the Republic of Zimbabwe and it is now an acknowledged unifying force and a tool for public diplomacy and the economy has largely been stabilised by its receipts income, securing peace in the process,” he said.

“Anything in a Government that is economically significant is enabled, facilitated and protected. We advanced tourism in Zimbabwe to a point where it is now a recognised economic pillar amongst three other pillars that include agriculture, mining and manufacturing,” said Minister Mzembi.

“In fact, it is cross-subsidising the Zimbabwean economy and GDP contribution now stands at 11 percent. We were able to advance to that point of recognition and it means that the whole Government works for the sector’s advancement. It starts with the security sector guaranteeing peace because peace is a critical success factor,” he said.

Minister Mzembi said Zimbabwe’s major product was peace as “it does not matter how attractive a destination is, if it is situated in a conflict situation it doesn’t sell. Tourism cannot sell conflict.”

He said the re-engagement and rapprochement carried out by the Government had resulted in the growth of the tourism sector. “Going forward, it (tourism sector) is paying the bills for Government functions. Meanwhile, the world has significantly softened its stance towards Zimbabwe, with European Union sanctions partially lifted and there is intense business reconnaissance missions into Zimbabwe and China would attest to this,” said Dr Mzembi.

“When State diplomacy fails, even without guns being fired at times, it can invent conditions equivalent to those of a war zone. We must never allow a situation where after traditional diplomacy fails, it precipitates war before we invoke the inherent diplomatic characteristics of tourism,” he said.

“When people arrive in destinations, they are agents of goodwill. Usually they bring an olive branch, so today’s 1,2 billion world arrivals can easily be turned into peace ambassadors of this world. The expenditure that they generate in destinations creates tourism economies which today stands at $1,4 trillion.”

Minister Mzembi chronicled how after the formation of the Government of National Unity in 2009, he was tasked with reaching out to the country’s traditional tourist source markets which had issued travel advisories against Zimbabwe.

The culmination of the efforts was the regularisation of the country’s membership to world tourism bodies, with the ultimate being the country’s joint hosting with Zambia of the 28th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation in Victoria Falls in 2013.

The conference came up with a Beijing Declaration on sustainable tourism as a driver of development.