HAVANA, Cuba – The SADC endorsed candidate for the UNWTO Secretary General position, the Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Dr Walter Mzembi is in Cuba to attend the 60th Commission for the Americas statutory meeting. Mzembi and his delegation who was received by the Director General for Tourism Mr Carlos Alberto Lamora Gonzalez, Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Cuba, Cde Ignatius Mudzimba and Senior Embassy staff, immediately went into bilateral briefings with the Cubans.
Mzembi has been invited to attend all the statutory UNWTO Commissions including the Americas taking place in Havana, Cuba from the second to the fifth of May 2016. He is accompanied by a delegation that includes Zimbabwe Tourism Authority Chief Executive Mr Karikoga Kaseke and Officials in the Ministry.
Cuba is the host of the 60th Session of the Regional Commission for the Americas. It is fascinating that Cuba is leading in terms of tourism arrivals in Latin America despite having been under an economic embargo for fifty-six years and political isolation from the USA. Under the Communist Party of Cuba, led by President Raul Castro, Cuba continues to be stable and has instituted pragmatic economic measures aimed at strengthening its people-centred development with its primary focus on public infrastructure, health, education and creating economic opportunities for all.
The country has managed to turn adversity into opportunity underpinned by tourism as one of its key economic sectors. Tourism is leading immensely in contributing to revenue generation, poverty reduction and employment creation in Cuba, and it has provided relief to a country that Zimbabwe can learn a lot on how to survive under sanctions. Tourism in Cuba was further boosted by the Papal visit in 2015, and subsequently, the visit by the US President Barack Obama to the Island nation. This has seen accelerated improvements in US-Cuba relations and growing confidence over Cuba by the international community.
Political relations between Cuba and Zimbabwe remain very cordial with the two countries sharing common predicaments of economic embargos from the USA. Instruments such as ZIDERA in Zimbabwe have negatively impacted on trade relations. However, with the US-Cuba relations on the positive mend, it is anticipated that the Obama administration will take further steps to improve relations elsewhere, and if the “no objections stance” by US to a twenty-five million housing loan facility to CABS by the African Development Bank is anything to go by, Zimbabwe may need to up its game going forward.
Already, President Mugabe in April signaled his willingness for improved relations with the US when he received credentials of the new US Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Harry K. Thomas Junior. Recently Dr Mzembi was in Washington DC to meet with Senior Officials in the Obama administration. His clarion call on citizen diplomacy through tourism has been well received worldwide. He maintains that “tourism is the peace-bridge that should remain standing even when nation states are in a state of fall-out” as he pursues his thrust of leveraging on tourism as a tool in public diplomacy.
Mzembi’s participation at the 60th Meeting of the Regional Commission for the Americas meeting comes as a huge plus to his campaign particularly in Latin America where Zimbabwe’s diplomatic presence is limited to Havana and Brasilia only. He is expected to meet the majority of the twenty-four Members of the Americas although he was quick to point out that an integration North and South America tourism will be one of his goals as he begins his campaign in earnest. “Instead of building walls, the Americas need a safe, secure, integrative and seamless product” Mzembi said. He is looking forward to the next few days of interactive learning on tourism best practices in the Americas, and was quick to suggest that the country needs to follow-up on Cuba’s invitation for Zimbabwe to embark on a benchmark visit of the Caribbean Island’s booming tourism.
“Cuba presents to Zimbabwe the ideal benchmark for turning adversity into opportunity given that they have been under stricter and severe sanctions and hardship from the USA for nearly sixty years, and that notwithstanding they have overcome all manner of restrictions to emerge as a leading player in the Caribbean tourism architecture. Today they boast of a three billion tourism economy, sixty-three thousand room stock. A record of 3.5 million visitors were received in 2015, with a forecast growth of six percent in 2016 after a seventeen percent increase in 2015. The Cuban government has told me that they plan to reach eighty-thousand rooms by year 2020 whilst at home we are aiming for twenty thousand in line with our Vision 2020, surely we can do better than that” Mzembi said.