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THE World Bank is funding Zimbabwe and Zambia’s joint Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Univisa pilot project expected to take off by August 2014, Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi said.

The pilot project is an attempt to test systems for an open visa regime in Sadc and eventually into the Kavango — Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area region and across Africa.

It is premised on the open boarder policy that was used between Zimbabwe and Zambia when they co-hosted the United Nations World Tourism Organisation general assembly in August last year.

Although Mzembi could not be drawn to give the quantum of funding under the pilot project, he said the World Bank is currently funding logistical meetings which will enable the two governments to finalise a framework of co-operation.

The nature of the ultimate agreement between the two countries, Mzembi said, is still work in progress as the governments have agreed on the need for a legal framework currently being worked out.

“The two countries have also proposed a tripartite agreement among Zimbabwe, Zambia, the World Bank and the technical committee, which at country level is led by the Principal Immigration Officer,” he said.

The tourism minister said a number of sub-committees have been set up and are now operational. The sub-committes include that of marketing which deals with publicity, policy and legal committee that handles the legal side of the Univisa project as well as the security committee which handles operational issues.

“All the committee are operational and results of whatever they are dealing with will be made public at the point of launching the project,” he added.

Mzembi said the project would promote seamless cross-boarder tourism to enable tourists to move with ease across borders. An open skies policy and a liberalised visa system would see Zimbabwe net $4,5 billion in tourism earnings by 2018, equivalent to the country’s 2014 annual budget, according to Mzembi.

“The Univisa is a policy tool of choice which will help multi-destination packaging thus helping the region as a whole become more appealing and this will be catalytic to enhance visitor numbers,” he said.

The Zimbabwean government has prioritised the project as a means to boost tourism performance.

In the 2014 national budget, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa made a commitment to increase investment in the tourism sector.

Introduction of a Univisa system to allow free movement of a person across the region is modeled along the lines of the Schengen Visa, which allows people to move freely across European countries that are part of the visa regime.

The system is expected to make the region more accessible to international visitors who may want to visit several tourist destinations within the region on one trip.

Furthermore, tourism destinations in the region will complement each other, offering a more diverse regional tourism product for visitors.

Tourism’s contribution to Zimbabwean economy is currently estimated at about 10% and has the potential to grow to 15% by 2015.

ZTA CEO Karikoga Kaseke recently said Zimbabwe reported a 2% surge in tourist arrivals to 1,83 million from 1,79 million in 2012.

According to ZTA figures, receipts grew 13,62% to US$851 million from US$749 million the previous comparative period.

Of the arrivals, 86% are low value tourists from mainland Africa at 1 570 799 with over 33% of them were transit tourists.

Government said average hotel room and bed occupancy levels, which closed 2013 at around 59% and 41%, respectively, are expected to improve in 2014 to 61% and 42%, respectively.

Source : Zimbabwe Independent

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