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THE Zimbabwe Council for Tourism (ZCT) says the country’s tourism industry significantly benefitted from hosting the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly last year.

Zimbabwe and Zambia co-hosted the prestigious global tourism event in August last year, with estimates indicating that the two countries could have spent over US$15 million to put together a high level conference that was attended by about 155 UNWTO members.

The ZCT says in the past few months, it has witnessed tremendous growth in arrivals in hotels and other tourism facilities, which is an indication that the g global networks established by the industry during the conference have begun to bear fruit. Without a shift in policies governing the industry, further growth of the industry is possible.

“We want people to come to Zimbabwe, especially after the UNWTO conference last year,” says ZCT chief executive officer, Paul Matamisa.

“That event was not meant for Zimbabwe to make money during the host of the conference,” he says.

“It was a marketing event for Zimbabwe and it has done well. Interest on Zimbabwe is now quite high on the international markets. We don’t want to lose that (momentum),” he says.

He spoke as Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) statistics indicated that tourist arrivals rose by two percent in 2013 to 1,8 million from 1,7 million recorded in 2012. The slight growth was driven by arrivals from Africa. Matamisa says arrivals should have increased significantly during the first quarter of 2014.

Leading hotel groups, Rainbow Tourism Group and African Sun Limited, have also said demand for Zimbabwe as a tourism destination has improved. But while the country’s tourism industry has been slowly recovering from a decade of recession, the arrival levels were still lower than the record set in 1999, when the country reported 2,2 million.

The ZTA says Zimbabwe has recorded a 19 percent decrease in tourist arrivals between 1999 to 2013. The European market, which has been severely affected by a diplomatic tiff between Harare and London, recorded the largest fall in arrivals of 66 percent.

Europe, which has traditionally been the country’s largest tourism market, has slowly been eclipsed by arrivals from Africa and China. The ZTA says if the southern African country had maintained tourist arrivals at an average growth of 14 percent per annum registered between 1980 and 1999, Zimbabwe could easily have reached 14 million arrivals last year.

But the diplomatic standoff resulted in devastating travel warnings and travel bans, which has curtailed the flow of international tourists. The country generated US$851 million from tourism in 2013. Zimbabwe is targeting to boost the revenue to US$5 billion in the next four years.

Matamisa told the Financial Gazette that among the factors affecting the growth of the tourism industry was a new tax imposed by government, which has resulted in the local market being too expensive than regional competitors.

In the tourism industry, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority has been looking for many taxing opportunities. Government has introduced a 15 percent tax on foreign tourists. Complementary tickets issued by hotels will be taxed backdated to 2009. He said this will affect the growth of the industry.

“They introduced a 15 percent on the revenue that we generate from international tourists,” said Matamisa.

“Tourists were not paying this tax, but now everybody is taxable. But tourists make bookings in aance at rates that are applicable at the time of booking. Hotels cannot change the (rates) and they have to shoulder the costs. If we decide to pass on the costs tourists will go to other destinations. Government should not increase prices for visitors, at least for ongoing contractual arrangements,” he said. newsdesk@fingaz.co.zw

Source : Financial Gazette