For me, today is the culmination of an eight-year journey, that began with my deployment, in February 2009, as the Minister of Tourism and the Hospitality Industry for the Republic of Zimbabwe. It was an assignment which threw me literally into the deep end of adversity at a time when, in the wake of serious disagreement with some influential members of the international community over our agrarian reform programme, my country was draped with blanket negative travel advisories and faced an unprecedented degree of isolation within the broad community of nations.
Zimbabwe was most topical in global mainstream media for perceived good and bad reasons, but, as always, it was the bad news which made the front pages. Fast forward to the present. After a sustained re-engagement and rebranding effort, I and my team managed to transform the Zimbabwe tourism economy from the US$ 200 million per annum which I inherited when I took office, to the US$1billion plus status we enjoy today: and, we managed to achieve that with virtually nothing by way of funding. It was overwhelmingly by way of creative thinking and a collective re-branding effort. So much so that the February 2015 Edition of the New York Times’ 52 Global Must Visit Report, ranked Zimbabwe 14 on its “attractiveness index” and anointed my country as a “once avoided, now a must-see destination”.
This is the same destination that, in August 2013 and together with Zambia, co- hosted the 20th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly. The hosting was famously described at the time by the current Secretary General, Dr Taleb Rifai, as “the best attended ever General Assembly in the history of General Assemblies”. As I speak, the American luxury and lifestyle travel magazine – Conde Nast Traveller – in its listing of the 17 best places to visit in 2017, described Zimbabwe as Africa’s best destination, listing us at number 13, followed by Rwanda at number 14. Canada topped this prestigious ranking – and we are proud and indeed gratified to be classified amongst the world’s very best.
This is but the latest of numerous international accolades and endorsements bestowed upon Zimbabwe in the wake of our focused and sustained re-branding thrust: a thrust which turned adversity into opportunity, negative energy into positive, and which successfully leveraged the country’s amazing tourism product to develop an infinitely more positive, more enticing narrative. And so, as we launch my candidature, I and my team take pride in the work we have done and in the progress we have made; and we take pride in the clean bill of travel health enjoyed by destination Zimbabwe and in our unbroken 33-year tourist safety record. Both of which contributed to the resounding global endorsement manifested in the holding of the 2013 UNWTO General Assembly at the Victoria Falls.
On that occasion, literally the world came, saw, and experienced our breath-taking tourism product, enriched by the unparalled warmth and innate hospitality of our people. Once again, I wish to state that, if given an opportunity to lead the UNWTO, I will direct this same energy, this same passion and this same focus into my new role. And I will bring to the table the experience I have gained in successfully overcoming adversity, in successfully navigating difficult waters and in successfully responding to the complex and challenging circumstances which lie ahead as, together, we look to the future of the Organisation.