Domestic tourism in Zimbabwe: my random thoughts
A quick survey I conducted concluded that a few people knew there were caves in Domboshava and that the National Heroes Acre was open for public entry.
Traditionally, most Zimbabweans travel, a habit that emanated from the days of colonisation in which man worked in towns and women and children stayed at the rural home. The purpose of travel is mostly visiting friends and relatives (VFR). This shows that the local people have a high propensity to travel. Given this background it is astonishing to look at the domestic tourism statistics and at occupancy at local hotels. The figures are pathetic and they portray a picture that locals are not keen travellers. Calls by government and private sector have been made to promote domestic tourism but no action or positive results have emanated from these calls.
Domestic tourism thrived during the era of white commercial farmers but ever since the fast track land reform programme some destination sunk into oblivion and some are experiencing very low tourist traffic. The majority of people in Zimbabwe didn’t take part in tourism due to a number of factors; lack of income for leisure activities and lack of adequate information to influence choice of travel.
The main reason why locals do not engage in tourism is not known clearly although most industry analysts and academics believe it is due to lack of income for leisure activities. There is no publicly known market research done to substantiate this claim that lack of income is the main reason for the poor domestic tourism market. The claim of low income does not shed light as to why there is poor visitor traffic at museums in Harare which do not charge a fee of more than $5 to mention just one place.
This writer is of the view that we put aside the issue of income when dealing with domestic tourism but rather focus on information dissemination and destination awareness. I strongly believe that the domestic market is on the low because of lack of knowledge by the possible visitors. A quick survey I conducted concluded that a few people knew there were caves in Domboshava and that the National Heroes Acre was open for public entry. Dealing with problems faced in the domestic market from the income angle has the disadvantage of rigidity of the aspects considered on income; salaries are not as easy to get increased and neither can prices be easily slashed down; and thus will take many years of to yield positive results.
The people must be let known all the relevant information about tourism in Zimbabwe and the destinations that are around their home areas. Education should be given to repel the notion that tourism is only for the rich and only to enjoy a holiday you have to go to Victoria Falls, Nyanga, Kariba and Masvingo or some international resort for boating activities.
Fragmentation of who is in charge of tourism is also an issue. Consider the bureaucracy faced by schools when they want to arrange school trips and yet we say we want our children to grow up fanatics of travel.
There is need for active result based campaigns aimed at promoting domestic tourism. For starters we can use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. These give us an opportunity to educate the people about tourism as well as get feedback on their thoughts and on what can be improved. With social media we can use it popularise the less popular destinations around the country.
All stakeholders must be involved in the marketing of the destination in the local market. The initiative must take one step at a time. Firstly, there is need to re-establish city parks and encourage rational use of these parks. Residents must be taught how to use these parks and a culture instilled in people to enjoy family moments in local parks. As residents get used to these parks it is possible for them to develop a need to escape their used environment and try a new place and this may eventually start to create demand for leisure centres around cities and towns.
Domestic tourism is crucial for the tourism industry as its existence may be the solution to seasonality challenges faced by the tourism industry. The revival of the tourism industry is not an easy task but it requires the coordination and commitment of all stakeholders.
Anyway these were just my random thoughts hope you may get some useful information out of it.