Mzembi retains UNWTO Africa chair

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Tourism minister Walter Mzembi has been overwhelmingly re-elected chairperson of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Commission for Africa with a call to build a just society in which “humanity co-exist with nature”.

Wisdom Mdzungairi in Medellín, Colombia

Cameroonian and Ivory Coast Tourism ministers became the new Africa vice-chairpersons.

Mzembi’s re-election enhances his chances to land the powerful position of secretary-general (SG) of the UNWTO when the organisation’s six regions namely — Africa, the Americas, East Asia and the Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and South Asia — vote to replace incumbent Taleb Rifai in China in 2017. He becomes a member of the UNWTO executive council for the next two years.

Walter Mzembi etched

Mzembi’s reelection came as the African Union (AU) proposed to introduce a $10 tax on tourists travelling to, within and out of Africa, a move that reportedly has far-reaching effects on the tourism industry across the continent.

He said of all the economic sectors, tourism in itself had become the easily available target for fundraising by the continental body. The AU proposal seeks to boost its revenue streams by collecting tax from member countries.

Mzembi added that an additional tax band on tourism had the unintended consequences of making destinations uncompetitive.

“Indisputably, Africa’s tourism is surprisingly strong and resilient. While there is a strong case to find sustainable homegrown ways of funding the AU, it is imperative to mention that tourism is already heavily taxed across its supply chain,” he said.

“I am concerned by this development. This is akin to killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Going forward, the fact that the AU has seen tourism as a taxable sector justifies the need for dialogue and active consultations between responsible ministries at the appropriate level with the AU Commission. In so doing, we will be in a position to advise and support the AU on how to fund the AU.”

Mzembi said tourism had been and would continue to play its catalytic role in economic development, generate more money, and then tax the sector “intelligently and support its work”.

The minister said he would lobby for positive engagement with the AU on establishing institutional presence at the AU level with special focus on tourism and environment; brand Africa; integrated product development and diversification; integrated marketing and promotion of African destinations and flexible visa regimes. He added that a thorough review of visas based on reciprocity was critical as this had tended to lower arrivals.

Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) vice-chairman James Muzangaza said Mzembi’s re-election showed the Zimbabwe had become a brand in Africa.

“As ZTA we are eager to see our minister elected UNWTO secretary-general. The minister has undoubtedly become the most popular brand and many African states believe in Zimbabwe. It’s a good sign that will help maintain our tourism products’ visibility.
Therefore Zimbabwe is expected to lobby for his candidature for the position of secretary-general,” Muzangaza said.

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