The Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) Company plans to construct a five-star hotel and a giant 800-seater convention centre in Bulawayo at a cost of $50 million after realising an untapped accommodation market in the city.
The city has only two conversional hotels under Rainbow and Africasun and during peak periods such as the annual ZITF exhibition and big national events, delegates at times fail to secure accommodation resulting in others putting up in homes.
In written responses, the ZITF Company general manager, Nomathemba Ndlovu, said the overwhelming responses from the exhibitors and the urgent need for accommodation, saw the need to increase facilities in the city.
Ndlovu said the construction of the five- star hotel and the 800-seater conference centre at a cost of $50 million, was high on the agenda of the company to cater for the growing needs of the emerging “meetings” industry.
“Initial feasibility studies put the costs of the project in excess of $50 million. We are yet to identify a suitable funder for the project. We are currently tendering for a consultancy firm whose mandate it shall be to develop a revenue model and investment structure for the project as well as to identify and engage a suitable investor.”
There are some countries that survive on by providing state-of-the-art conference and accommodation facilities, generating billions of dollars annually in foreign currency.
Said Ndlovu: “In addition to important business opportunities, the MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) and tourism provides immense benefits to the broader economy as it generates on average a higher spending level, facilitates knowledge transfer, enhances innovation and creativity, reduces seasonality and contributes to the regeneration of destinations.
“In fact, a number of destinations in the Asian-Pacific owe their rapid growth and development to their being able to model themselves as premier meeting destinations”.
Ndlovu said for Zimbabwe to follow a similar development trajectory, the country will have to increase its capital investment in meetings, hotels and leisure facilities in all major centres nationwide.
The ZITF company, she said, decided to construct a convention centre and the hotel within the exhibition centre in Bulawayo as it has vast space.
She said the convention centre will complement existing tourism infrastructure in the city and enable Bulawayo to host large conferences and conventions, in addition to its exhibition facilities.
However, those conversant with Bulawayo might argue will such a huge investment in Bulawayo provide quick returns given that the city is usually quiet, save for major trade showcases in April, sporting functions such as cricket and socio-political functions.
Ndlovu, however, defended the $50 million investment in the city, adding there was high optimism for the growth of the sector.
“The issue with this industry is that meetings follow venues and not the other way round. Our lack of suitable meetings infrastructure has been the reason that we have failed to bid competitively for large international or even regional meetings and conventions.
“Once we begin to invest in meetings infrastructure by constructing conference facilities of suitable capacity, accommodation units and entertainment facilities, then we will be able to transform Bulawayo and gain competitive advantage within the regional MICE industry.”
Commenting on preparations for this year’s edition of the ZITF that runs under the theme “Sustainable Industrial Development — Inclusive, Competitive and Collaborative,” Ndlovu said all was moving well.
Due to overwhelming demand, the firm experienced increased amount of space being used for exhibition purposes from 57 000 square metres in 2017 to 59 400 this year. Of this, 75 percent has been booked to date.
In terms of exhibitor numbers, there are 359 direct exhibitors compared to 266 at the same time last year, reflecting a 40 percent increase.
“We have also seen an increase in the number of new exhibitors as 18 percent of the 359 direct exhibitors who have confirmed participation will be participating for the first time. This is, to us pleasing because it is indicative of an improved trading environment and commitment to reengage with the international community,” said Ndlovu.