The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) is ratcheting up pressure on the Presidency to intervene and stop endless roadblocks mounted by traffic cops on major highways, scaring away international tourists and crippling the hospitality industry.
The authority has appealed to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is in charge of the economic cluster, to bring back order on Zimbabwe’s highways, in the wake of revelations that the tourism industry is starting to feel the effects of the numerous roadblocks mounted by officers from the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).
In the past year, at least three major tourism industry players have collapsed, raising concerns in an industry that generates about US$1 billion for the country every year.
The tourism and hospitality industry is among four key sectors expected to drive economic recovery under the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Soci-Economic Transformation economic blue-print.
Roadblocks, described by ZTA to be among many factors frustrating tourism growth, also affect commerce by causing unnecessary delays along transport corridors.
Goods en-route to other regional destinations are also delayed on Zimbabwe’s highways.
Confrontations between traffic cops and commuter omnibuses frustrated by the roadblocks have ended in fatalities.
There has been an eruption of anger among the public and businesses, including the fragile tourism industry, which are affected by the delays occassioned by the roadblocks.
But even as ZTA chief executive officer, Karikoga Kaseke, indicated he had raised concerns with Mnangagwa over roadblocks, Home Affairs Minister, Ignatius Chombo, was reported to have sanctioned the use of spikes on the roads, as well as guns.
Almost every police officer in Harare now carries a spike, but many fear these have been turned into personal gadgets used by the traffic cops to extort the driving public rather than bring order to the country’s roads.
Kaseke told industry stakeholders in Victoria Falls last week that the longer roadblocks stayed, the deeper the problems in the industry.
“Visitors want to go where they are respected,” the ZTA boss told industry executives at the launch of Kenya Airways’ maiden direct flight into Victoria Falls from Nairobi.
“I was stopped four times by police this morning. Is this respecting our visitors? I have talked to the Vice President about the issue of roadblocks. He said he will call the Minister of Home Affairs and talk to him. The police are making this destination unattractive. I know that as Ministers you were not stopped but I was stopped four times,” he told Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister, Joram Gumbo, who was the keynote speaker at the event.
Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) director general, David Chaota, said the drive to attract tourists into the country had to be accompanied by reforms meant to improve accessibility, with little or no hindrance to tourists.
“We must do it without compromising national security,” he told the Financial Gazette’s Companies & Markets in Victoria Falls.
“We must help the ZTA market the destination. We are looking at regaining our lost pride,” Chaota said.
In the past five months, CAAZ has led a revolution to improve accessibility, following the completion of the US$150 million facelift of Victoria Falls International Airport in November, which now accommodates up to 1,5 million tourists per annum, from about 500 000.
As a result, there has been an upsurge in foreign air traffic that has renewed confidence in the country’s frail tourism industry, shattered by devastating economic and political volatilities that triggered crippling travel bans.
Last week, Kenya Airways introduced direct flights into Victoria Falls from Nairobi, connecting Cape Town in South Africa.
And in line with its African expansion strategy, the ambitious RwandAir last month introduced direct flights into Harare from Kigali.
SA Airlink plans to join the great trek into Victoria Falls in July, four months after South African Airways increased its capacity on the route by introducing the Airbus A330-200.
Ethiopian Airways launched direct flights into Victoria Falls from East Africa last month.
Kaseke said police had failed to learn from other State agencies such as the Department of Immigration, which has simplified the passage of tourists into the country.
In March last year, the department relaxed visa regimes for 37 countries including China while it removed restrictions for all visitors from the Southern African Development Community.
Zimbabwe uses a migration management system with a three tier visa model classified into categories A, B and C.
Category A refers to countries whose nationals are exempt from visa requirements while those in category B obtain visas at the port of entry on arrival.
Category C nationals are required to apply for visas prior to travel.
Immigration principal director, Clemence Masango, said China, along with 36 other countries, had been moved from category C to B.
The other countries moved to category B include Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Algeria, Turkey and Cuba.
“Immigration is doing a great job for tourism,” Kaseke said.
“More than 30 countries have been moved to category B. This has never happened in my career as a civil servant. All my work has been tourism related. I was the chief executive officer of the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe and I worked as the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Transport. But this is the first time that this has happened,” he added.
A State sponsored survey released in March noted that roadblocks on Zimbabwe’s roads were detrimental to tourism.
The Visitor Exit Survey conducted by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT) said tourists alleged harassment by police at roadblocks and persecution by customs officers.
It revealed that although the majority of the foreign tourists polled between 2015 and 2016 were generally happy to return or recommend the country, some had no kind words for Zimbabwe on account of ill-treatment.
It was the first time government commissioned a survey to gather tourist perceptions on Zimbabwe since roadblocks were intensified on major highways in 2009.
Hotels and other tourism operators have been complaining bitterly over the heavy presence of police on the country’s roads.
During the review period, 80 percent of arrivals into Zimbabwe were African tourists who preferred to drive and had to endure multiple roadblocks on their way to visit key attractions.
Excessive policing on the roads has forced some tourists arriving by road to avoid Zimbabwean resorts.
For instance, some now prefer to drive into Botswana’s Chobe National Park in Zambia, translating into substantial loss of revenue.
“In order to retain reputation of Zimbabwe being a hospitable nation, there is need to ensure continuous training of frontline personnel who interact with visitors; creating the first and last impressions on the destination such as immigration, customs and police,” ZIMSTAT said in the report.
There has been a dramatic decline in tourist arrivals in most resorts such as Binga, once a prime tourist destination, mostly due to the roadblocks.
Tourism operators said government must deal with the problem now to avoid losing tourist traffic.
“We don’t have to beat about the bush in terms of the damage that is done by roadblocks to the product,” said Zimbabwe Council of Tourism chief executive officer, Paul Matamisa at the launch of the report.
“If you are going to Bulawayo and there are 20 roadblocks you spend time stopping on 20 roadblocks. In other countries you do not see so many roadblocks on roads to tourist resorts,” he said. Financial Gazette