BULAWAYO, ZIMBABWE-- South African Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom is among tourism ministers and stakeholders from around the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other parts of the continent who are meeting in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, to discuss and exchange experiences relating to tourism in Africa, as well as to map the way forward in the tourism and hospitality industry.

The meeting comes at a time when the continent is building its productive capacities and deepening regional integration. Tourism remains an important sector for many African economies. It greatly contributes to the GDPs and employment creations in several countries.

According the World Travel and Tourism Council, in 2017, tourism contributed 10.4 per cent of the world's gross domestic product (GDP) of some 8.3 trillion US dollars. It also accounted for 235 million jobs, or one in every 10 jobs worldwide.

However, most African countries still face significant challenges and constraints in exploiting the potential of tourism services in trade and economic development.

The Zimbabwean government has already identified tourism as one of its key economic for the country drivers after agriculture and mining.

The new dispensation recognizes tourism as one of the critical economic drivers, as such tourism is regarded as a priority economic sector with the potential to stimulate development and economic revival. In this regard a 15-million tourism support facility has been established through the reserve bank of Zimbabwe to support emerging and existing tourism businesses, said Zimbabwean Vice-President Constentino Chiwenga.

"The authorities are making sure that they do not lose out due to unfriendly tourism polices, including restrictive visa regimes and border delays.

The upgrading and modernisation of these border posts will go a long way in assisting the country to regain lost market share, especially of the self-drive traffic from South Africa. Noting that South Africa is our biggest market, I challenge the tourism and hospitality industry to increase tourist arrivals from SA from about 716,000 in 2017 to surpass the 1.6 million visitors registered in 2006, by year 2023.