By Staff Writer
THE Government is set to consider the adoption of Victoria Falls Tourism Special Economic Zone corridor approach which will go a long way in addressing imbalance in product profiling within Matabeleland North region.
Speaking during the consultative workshop on the National Tourism Sector Strategy (NTSS) in Matabeleland North on Wednesday, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Prisca Mupfumira said this will go a long way in ensuring tourism development does not only concentrate on Victoria Falls but spread to the entire province.
“I am happy that the Government is considering the adoption of Victoria Falls Tourism Special Economic Zone corridor approach.
“This initiative will address the imbalance in product profiling within the province by mainstreaming areas such as Binga, Hwange and environs into the product portfolio. “This will go a long way in ensuring that Tourism development does not only concentrate on Victoria Falls but spread to the province as a whole,” she said.
Minister Mupfumira emphasised that the designation of the region as a Special Economic Zone should not only concentrate on investment from outside the country while ignoring the local people at the grassroots level.
“This serves as a clarion call on our people that the sector is open for investment by locals at all levels.
“Thus, as Government we need to put in place measures that support small tourism operators to invest into the Special Economic Zone,” she said.
Minister Mupfumira added that upon successful implementation, the Special Economic Zone would see the construction of a world class tourism and hospitality training institution that will capture the attention of the SADC region.
“The institution will help address the human resource base gaps in the sector as well as the province.”
She said the Government through her ministry has shown preparedness and commitment to the development of the Victoria Falls Special Economic Zone by placing the project under the Ministry’s 100 day work programme.
“Under this program we envisage the development of a concept note and a Master Plan for the Victoria Falls Special Economic Zone.
“These documents will help to inform the strategic direction in terms of investment in the Special Economic Zone while at the same time taking into consideration the environmental sustainable issues associated with Victoria Falls and environs,” she said.
“My Ministry will work together with other relevant line Ministries such as the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate to develop the Master Plan.
“In the same vein, my Ministry together with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and Environment Africa are working in close collaboration for the conservation of the Victoria Falls environment and the maintaining of the World Heritage Site status.”
In addition, she said the Government has realised that the development of the Special Economic Zone will boost the carrying capacity of Victoria Falls in terms of accommodation.
Presently, Victoria Falls has 1 781 rooms and hotels constitute 1 125 of the rooms while the remaining balance being lodges and other accommodation facilities.
“I understand that there has been additional room stock built by the recently opened lodges such as Flat Dogs Lodge, Batoka Lodges, Shearwater Explorers Village and Gorges lodge.
“My hope is that the coming up of these new lodges will help our domestic tourism market as well since this market remain under tapped.”
She challenged the accommodation sector to seriously consider the domestic tourism market and not only be glued on international tourism, as it presents opportunity for economic growth and sustainability of the hospitality industry.
It is envisaged that efforts should also be on coming up with strategies that fully capture the domestic market while the Tourism Special Economic Zone would give the country a rigid competitive advantage through the construction of world Class hotels, Presidential Villas, a Theme Park, an International Finance Capital, world class shopping malls and a state of the art convention centre.
“This initiative will bring a new product base into the sector while at the same time reviving the heartbeat of our tourism infrastructure inventory which has for a long time not seen any major upgrade,” said Minister Mupfumira.
She said her ministry through the financial assistance for United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and the UNWTO Themis Foundation successfully implemented the STEP Project entitled, “Enhancing participation of women and youth in the tourism sector in Victoria Falls”.
The project which was funded to the tune of US$80,000.00 saw the training of women and youths who are resident in Victoria Falls in housekeeping, food and beverage services, food preparation, tour guiding and business management for Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and women co-operatives in the tourism sector.
The project has benefited 150 women and youth participants.
“This initiative saw the handover of equipment and grants to nine tourism SMEs and two women cooperatives (composed of 300 women) to enhance their day to day business activities.
“I understand that some of the beneficiaries of the training programmes underwent some form of attachment with the hotels here in Victoria Falls and that some are already employed.
“Plans are at an advanced stage to replicate the STEP model to other tourism nodes for the economic emancipation of women and youth,” she said.
It is also hoped that the $400 million capital injection into the National Railways of Zimbabwe which has seen the parastatal leasing locomotives from South Africa is a game changer in terms of passenger transportation.
“Our hope is that the luxurious passenger locomotives will boost domestic tourism countrywide and especially to the Victoria Falls thereby presenting tourists with various options to access the destination,” she said.
The Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry is keen to see the return of the Steam Train linking Victoria Falls and Cape Town.
“This development will see the boost in arrivals not only for Victoria Falls but also stimulate growth of tourism for other towns along the railway lines such as Gwanda,” she said.