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UNWTO Secretary General: Not a peer competition, but a global deployment

Jun 13, 2016

On April 1, Zimbabwe announced that it was nominating Tourism Minister Eng Doctor Walter Mzembi (WM) for the seat of the United Nations World Tourism Organization Secretary-General. Minister Mzembi has hit the campaign trail for the global position and tells The Herald Political Editor Tichaona Zindoga (TZ) that if he lands the post, which he says is possible, it will be Zimbabwe’s highest diplomatic coup coming against a backdrop of negativity and sanctions against the country stemming from certain powerful pockets in the world. These are the perspectives they shared yesterday:

TZ: You are eyeing the post of SG of the UNWTO which falls vacant next year and have the support of Zimbabwe and Sadc. What does this position mean for the country?

WM: I have mentioned before that if we succeed, it will be Zimbabwe’s highest and most prestigious diplomatic deployment. In the decade leading to 2009, Zimbabwe suffered some diplomatic setbacks after Article 96 of the ACP-EU Cotonou Partnership Agreement was invoked, resulting in what we ordinarily refer to as sanctions, which were exacerbated by another complementary regime of sanctions in the form of ZIDERA from the USA.

A re-engagement drive by the then inclusive Government in the five years leading to 2013 did not quite succeed in shedding off the perceived “bad boy” image so viciously and deceptively orchestrated by global mainstream media, resulting in the decimation of our brand equity and its competitiveness.

Notwithstanding, the revocation of Article 96 in November 2014 and the seeming new found international goodwill for the country, its own re-engagement with multilateral institutions, the journey to full engagement is not yet complete and competing for this post is our own sectoral contribution to that effort, which will see Zimbabwe claiming its pride of place in the international family of countries.

TZ: You have the backing of SADC, but there are some hostile forces out there. We recall some countries did not want Zimbabwe to host the 2013, 20th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly. How are you going to go past that hurdle, and just what do you have to offer to the whole world if you take the helm in light of global issues of this day?

WM: “The Nazareth factor ! ”, notwithstanding, we still hosted arguably “the most successful General Assembly in the history of General Assemblies” according to the UNWTO Secretary-General Dr Taleb Rifai, however this factor still continues to haunt us as we begin the exploratory phase of our campaign for the Secretary-General post and is the often repeated line that I have to respond to: "Can anything good come out of Zimbabwe?"

In John 1:46, when Phillip had to answer a similar question from Nathanael, his brief answer was “come and see”. The world came and saw Zimbabwe in August 2013, the New York Times in its February 2015 “52 Global must Visit Report” ranked Zimbabwe number 14, with the addendum “once avoided now a must see”. This is the brand that is deploying me to compete, and Southern African Development Community (SADC) has endorsed my candidacy.

Africa, which has tested my leadership through my chairmanship of the UNWTO Regional Commission for Africa (CAF) from 2013 to 2015, and unanimously renewing my mandate for another two-year term to 2017, may not have difficulties in endorsing my candidature.

Given the adversities that are confronting global tourism today and I list here a few: tourism and security, climate change, biodiversity terrorism, high taxation, standardisation, child sexual abuse, pandemics, and political conditions, there is no better candidate given our history that I have alluded to already, who could demonstrate how to turn adversity into an opportunity to the extent that I have done to Zimbabwe tourism, now setting the agenda in global tourism with a resume of tourism positions and accolades too numerous to mention since 2009. There is not a single country in the world without historical baggage, and that cannot be used against candidates. A quick analysis of current UN and international systems deployments will confirm that the majority of them are not from the world's "perfect" countries. There are no saint countries.

TZ: Out of interest, our readers would like to know who else are your potential contenders?

WM: My country nominated me after clearance with the President and subsequently by Sadc.

To be a candidate you need country nomination and I am not aware of any nominated candidates at this stage. What I am aware of are peer expressions of interests and we live to see the day when they will transform into country nominations, and that day may not be too far off, as the formal process of accepting candidatures will commence at the next 104th Executive Council meeting. Let me conclude by saying if I was responding to a routine job vacancy I would confidently say I am most qualified on my own merit however this is an elective position with geopolitical considerations, therefore endorsements are key.

I must hasten to say, this is not a competition for a job but a deployment and the endorsements that I am seeking speaks to answering geopolitical aspirations, Africa in the first instance and what global tourism we want to see going forward.

However, akin to all electoral competitions, whatever candidature emerges, should consider Zimbabwe, Sadc and hopefully Africa’s candidate a serious proposition.

TZ: You have been travelling around lately, what is the vibe coming from your various meetings?

WM: There is a very positive acceptance of my statecraft and bureaucratic competence for this post. Remember this is an elective international civil servant position, which requires competent skills.
I have been around long enough to know where to take the organisation in fulfilling members’ aspirations and expectations.

The pedigree of my candidature goes beyond just advocacy, marketing and promotion of global tourism to international deal broking and statesmanship, which are the hallmarks needed to confront contemporary challenges I referred to already.

TZ: We are already into the second half of 2016. What do you need to do in the remaining period to ensure that the road is clear?

WM: Sell the vision. I draw inspiration from the Christian Bible’s Habakkuk 2:2 “Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run, that readeth it”.

TZ: Let’s come back home. How is the tourism industry faring?

WM: Tourism has a projected sectoral growth of 4,1 percent ahead of mining, manufacturing and agriculture and has been performing steadily on a growth trajectory since 2009 and contributing an average of 10 percent to GDP.

It could do much more on the back of enabling policies and I cite here urgent ones that need redress, the behaviour of currencies, intelligent taxation, destination accessibility and connectivity, a friendly visa regime, increased tourism asset base and a better packaging of brand Zimbabwe.

TZ: In other countries tourism is a huge and potentially an economic lifeline, can the same be said of Zimbabwe?

WM: We are no exception, however, when you situate our, and Africa’s performance within the context of global tourism, you begin to see how my minutely we are doing. Global tourism is generating $1,5 trillion, contributes 6 percent in exports, employ 288 million from 1,2 billion arrivals.

Africa’s cross cutting market share is a mere 3-5 percent, and in fact, our continent according to the latest global tourism barometer, is the only region that registered decline in arrivals performance at minus 3 percent.

Zimbabwe has a decimalised share of global performance, no different from any other African country except South Africa. It is this unequal growth and performance that is partly motivating me and has been understood by Sadc that it is an anomaly that we must correct.

TZ: What is the situation elsewhere?

WM: Europe has been leading, claiming almost 60 percent market share. However, there are threats to this performance arising from terrorism, which has marked tourism as a soft target, creating unprecedented insecurity in the mind of the traveller, going forward this is a challenge that demands a global response as none of us are safe from this scourge and attack on civilisation.

I have my thoughts on it, which include complementing hard power with soft power and harnessing the power of ICT to create safe, seamless and secure travel.

Migration, seemingly an undesirable buy-product of instability, is another phenomenon which is threatening what until now was a legacy example of openness in the Schengen. This world benchmark could very easily fold and re-create barriers to seamless travel if the current temporary panic goes unchecked. The future of the Euro needs close monitoring as it has a bearing on the tourism performance of the region.
South Asia and the Pacific is the growth pole not just for itself but an emerging source market for the world. The world should start planning for 600 million outbound travellers from China by year 2020.

The region has its insecurities similar to the Americas, and these include natural disasters and climate change, and in the definition of tourism and security as this debate continues, it has to capture them for mitigation and adaptation.

The Middle East, traditionally as an oil economy, is confounding its watchers as tourism surpasses the significance of oil, which hitherto has largely anchored livelihoods. Serious diversification is taking place although the gains are sometimes slowed down by insecurities.
The above notwithstanding, we have welcomed the designation of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development and combined with the SDGs particularly those akin to tourism, Goals 8, 12 and 14, the future for global tourism looks very bright.

UNWTO Secretary General: Not a peer competition, but a global deployment

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