Thousands of Jehovah’s Witness parishioners have descended on Harare, snapping up all available hotel accommodation and spending millions of dollars as government’s religious tourism push pays off.
Walter Mzembi, the minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, told the Daily News on Sunday that prime hotel accommodation has been taken by the parishioners, who
started trickling in from across the globe last week, with volunteers receiving them at the Harare International Airport.
The National Sports Stadium, the country’s biggest stadium that is usually used as a convention venue by local celebrity preachers such as Emmanuel Makandiwa, was filled to the
rafters as the witnesses started their convention in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.
An elated Mzembi, who has been trying to market religious tourism, said government plans to cash in on the convention.
“That is very true, hotels have been filled up and you can hardly get any places to stay,” Mzembi said.
“Some locals have vacated their houses to accommodate the foreigners.”
Of the more than 60 000 witnesses who are attending church services at the giant National Sports Stadium, 3 500 are foreigners.
Mzembi, who has been invited to be the keynote speaker at the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) inaugural conference on Tourism and Pilgrimages to be held in Spain
in September, said the Jehovah’s Witness convention was a classic example of what religious tourism can bring to the country.
Asked on the potential earnings that Zimbabwe could make, Mzembi said it was too early to estimate.
“Imagine 3 500 international visitors and they snap up all your accommodation all your prime accommodation,” he said.
“If we say they spend an average of $1 000 per visit, that will be substantial and if you factor in the domestic component, which is actually bigger with at least 50 percent of the people who are in that stadium from outside Harare, that could be substantial.“However, it is early days to start estimating expenditure.”
While minibuses cashed on, shuttling the witnesses to and from the city centre, motorists complained about the congestion that ensued along the road leading to the conference.
Mzembi said it is now time for government to step in through the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority and coordinate travelling and restore order.
Thousands of volunteers have been lined up not only to welcome the international visitors, but also to assist the missionaries preach the gospel.
As well as showing the guests the tourist attractions around Harare and nearby areas, volunteers will organise music, dance and even offer accommodation to their comrades in
The shortage of hotel rooms in the country will most likely put pressure on government and the Harare City Council to consider constructing more hotels in the capital.
Already, a local company, owned by businessman, Farai Jere is in the process of working on statutory requirements to clear the way for the construction of Hilton Hotel in Harare. Jere’s Stream Walk Recreational Arcade (Stream Walk) has reportedly secured guarantees and finances to the tune of $140 million to finance construction of the hotel.
Stream Walk is in partnership with international hotelier Hilton World Wide to build the multi-million dollar “mixed-use” property in the prime Eastlea area.
Tourism players and travel experts said Zimbabwe is headed for a huge tourism boom which could help in turning around the economy that government must relax too many laws which slow
down progress in construction of infrastructure like hotels.
“Government must be pragmatic and help tourism players in their efforts to improve industry. Government must actually help on projects like the Hilton Hotel so that people quickly construct their hotels,” said a top tourism player.