The fortunes of Harare are set to improve if ratings by the European Tourism Council translate into tourist arrivals to the city. Zimbabwe recently won two tourism awards, The World Tourism Destination and Favourite Cultural Destination Awards for 2014.
Buoyed by the awards, City of Harare (CoH) has started demolishing illegal structures in a bid to spruce up the city’s image. Many have seen this as a harsh exercise given the high unemployment rate in the city and country in general.
According to Phillip Pfukwa, director of urban planning in the city of Harare, the demolitions are a part of efforts to make the city more attractive and habitable.
“We need to create an environment that is friendly to visitors and the inhabitants of Harare,” said Pfukwa. “If we do things right we might be able to see huge changes in the city.”
Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) chief executive officer Karikoga Kaseke says that “first the city of Harare must prop-up its image…We need to clean up the city. Remember, Harare used to be the cleanest city in Africa in the early 80s,” he recalls.
He says the convening of initiatives such as the Harare International Carnival (HIC) are designed to attract tourists to Harare. He says that the carnival will be an important initiative to woo visitors. “Watch it grow,” he says confidently.
Kaseke says the tourism authority body has partnered with CoH to develop a brand of cultural tourism that is unique to Zimbabwe.
According to Elvas Mari, the National Arts Council director, Harare has an immense potential as a cultural destination.
“We have talent and art products that are only seen in this part of the world,” said Mari.
Local researcher Nathan Zingoni said that festivals and events such as the HIC provide numerous benefits not only for the individual businesses but also for local communities.
“Business events and conferences, thanksgiving ceremonies, rainmaking rituals, ancestral domestication celebrations, coronation of traditional authorities, community working group projects and national cleansing rituals, can increase visitation and expenditure, reduce seasonality, encourage repeat visitation and heighten regional awareness,” said Zingoni.
Zingoni notes that festivals can also provide the stimulus for additional infrastructure development in the local area, building community pride.
The Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA), the Zimbabwe International Film Festival (ZIFF), the International Images Film Festival (IIFF), Shoko spoken word festival, the Jikinya Dance Festival, Chibuku Neshamwari Dance Festival and the Chibuku Road to Fame are some of the festivals that have attracted international tourists to the city.
“Festivals attract cultural tourists to local community events to promote enriching exchanges between tourists and residents. Festivals have major impacts on the development of cultural tourism to the host communities,” says Zingoni.
The second Harare International Carnival (HIC) took place in May, building on its 2013 inauguration. Despite a few disappointments such as the cancelling of Gospel Night, the HIC’s main event, the street party, was a success and attracted large crowds. Lenon Kanengoni (33) from Chitungwiza who was at the event said that the carnival was a good initiative which ought to be supported.
“The carnival is a noble idea as it enabled us to witness other cultures, it really brought joy to me and many others. I believe with good support, it has got potential to become one of the biggest festivals in the country,” said a happy Kanengoni.
In addition to cultural tourism, Harare has many natural attractions such as the Botanic Gardens and Ewanrigg, heritage sites such as Domboshawa, and wildlife areas such as Mukuvisi and Imire in and around the city. There is some debate as to whether or not Harare is fully utilising these spaces, and organisations like the ZTA will hope to use them to put Harare on the international tourism map soon.