By Blessing Masakadza
The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) is the face of the country, facilitating travel and tourism. It plays a big role in facilitating the entry and stay of visitors in the country.
One man and ZTA chief executive Karikoga Kaseke has been at the helm of the authority for 13 years and brings a wealth of experience in the sector.
He has had the privilege to run the parastatal both in the first republic and second republic.
Some people do envy his job and position at the authority but it is not a walk in the park, with Kaseke saying leading the ZTA is like driving a car without a steering wheel.
“The biggest challenge that anyone in this position will tell you is funding. ZTA is a government agency, and it should be funded by the State partly through a tourism levy and mostly through State appropriations.
“When I came to ZTA the State was not even funding us and I went to the minister of Finance then and they agreed it was an error for them not to fund the ZTA.
“I stated that tourism is a State responsibility so they started funding ZTA. I should appreciate that government has a lot of constraints and it does not have adequate resources to fully fund us,” he said.
“So, the biggest challenge is that you are running an organisation without funding. It’s like you’re given a car without a steering wheel. You’re supposed to be driving that car going everywhere for the purpose of the State but without the steering wheel. Any other challenge can come but this is the biggest challenge,” he said.
The country is currently facing a number of challenges, from a cholera outbreak to a currency crisis that has led to the soaring of prices of goods and commodities resulting in shortages and long queues.
This has also resulted in threats of protests and violence from some quarters and from a tourism perspective, Kaseke said all these factors impact negatively on the country’s image.
“This derails and affects the gains we have made so far because what has been happening recently is not good for tourism. We say tourism thrives in a peaceful environment so what is happening is not in support of the peace we should be having, hence making our life and work difficult at ZTA,” he said.
Kaseke assured the local and international community that despite the challenges, Zimbabwe is still a safe destination for tourist arrivals.
“We put a brave face to show the nation and international community that Zimbabwe is a safe destination which it still is. Tourism, however, does not only thrive in a peaceful environment but also a healthy environment. So, when we are having cholera outbreak it affects tourism. So, we must remain firm and consistent with our message that Zimbabwe is a safe destination for travellers. It is still a safe destination,” he said.
The pricing madness has also been heavily felt in the tourism industry and Kaseke feels something should be urgently done to address the situation.
“I’m hearing the locals are now being charged more. I’m told if you want to go to Boma, if you are a local, you have to pay $160 but if you are a foreigner you pay $40.
“They are saying the foreigners pay hard cash using an international card. Government is not rating but it’s rated on the parallel market. Where on earth can we have one person having dinner at $160?” he said.
“The situation is not good for our people. We know market forces are at play and we know we are a market economy not a command economy but I feel something should be done about the pricing or if it is the distortion caused by the currency that should be addressed.
“I leave that to the monetary and fiscal authorities to address because if it is not addressed we are not doing anything to help our people,’ he said.
Kaseke said he is happy that the tourism sector has not had any cancellations from intending and booked visitors despite these extenuating factors.
“Lucky enough we have not had any cancellations because of these issues,” he said.
“We pray that we keep communicating with the international markets but the problem is we can’t communicate without money. If there is cholera outbreak or any mishap
in any country the chief executive and the minister of that country are dispatched to the markets to assure the markets that everything is well but we can’t do the same without money” he added.
Kaseke said they will be meeting with various tourism players to discuss the issues at hand.
“We are meeting next Thursday, it’s a small team we call team tourism. We have invited them to come for a meeting with my board chairperson, myself, the minister and the permanent secretary to just discuss what is happening in the market and see what advice we can proffer,” he said.
On the issue of competitiveness, Kaseke said there are a number of factors that are affecting the country as a competitive destination.
He said delays at the ports of entry and the visa requirement was hindrance to the industry.
He said the country is blessed with a number of attractions and should be made accessible to markets.
“Access is very important for any destination. We have to provide access to the major source markets.
“We are saying we have attractions but if they are not accessible, we have nothing. We have very good attractions in the country and they must be accessible to the international tourist,’ he said.
“There are competitive issues such as the visa issue. Botswana, South Africa, Namibia have all scrapped visas for all major source markets, they don’t require them to have visas but we still maintain visas on major source markets”, said Kaseke.
“We must not impose visas on our major source markets. We cannot have a situation that visas can be issued on reciprocal basis, the principle of reciprocity. It is not good for tourism. When we want to go to America, they want visas and we say when they want to come here they should have visas, NO. Who wants who most? We are crying for them from a tourism point of view. They are a big source market for this region,” he said.
On the issue of delays at the ports of entry, Kaseke said, “Having tourists spend six hours at Kazungula Border Post, you’re not a good destination.
“You’re considered a negative destination. You don’t want to waste a lot of time at a border post, but now we are making the border post at an attraction by spending six to seven hours yet they don’t spend that long in the rain forest. Those are the issues we must address as a nation. If we don’t address them we will go down.”
Several issues have been raised around domestic tourism with the issue of high pricing being top.
“We must have a two-tier pricing system. Domestic tourists are charged differently from the foreigners to have the opportunity to enjoy their country and attractions. But if we put same prices with the foreigner it becomes uncompetitive,” he said. DailyNews