by Carl Joshua Ncube
As a stand-up comedian, I get to travel around the world and see some amazing things as a tourist. This year I decided I wanted to be a part of the conversation around tourism in order to understand how to truly add value to our growing tourism market in Zimbabwe. This has resulted in my narrative changing from just telling jokes to educating people about where I come from. In the late part of this year, I was invited to be part of the Festival of Brilliant minds which is called La Ciudas De Las Ideas which is an annual event bringing together amazing speakers in a 3-day conference. I would be the closing speaker for this year’s conference which was held in the rich in history and old city of Puebla in Mexico. As a speaker at the conference, I was given the VIP treatment and experience in Mexico from a cultural perspective that left me drawing some obvious parallels with my country Zimbabwe and prompted me to write an article on 10 things in Mexico I think Zimbabwe could learn from.
Many Zimbabweans may not know this but our staple in Zimbabwe is maize and our traditional dish from this product is Sadza. That’s the part we know but the part we don’t know is that maize is not indigenous to Zimbabwe. You see our people used to grow and consume smaller grains like rapoko millet and sorghum for example. Our colonial history which I won’t go into results in maize being imported from South America to help feed the black workforce on our continent. Unfortunately, this product was brought here without context because in mexico-maize is used for so much more stuff than just sadza. From a tourism perspective, this means in Mexico they are able to offer a plethora of products to tourists. In Zimbabwe the only product we have to offer tourists is sadza.
Tequila is huge. I thought it was a big deal in Mexico but when I arrived I realized it is a HUGE deal. I mean I travel a lot and one of my favorite activities is buying stuff in duty-free shops to bring home particularly alcohol. In Mexico, TEQUILA has its own shops because of the variety and number of players selling it on the market. Tequila in fancy bottles rustic bottles shaped like skulls.
In Africa, we haven’t realized the power of home-brewed stuff from a merchandising perspective. Imagine if in Zimbabwe we branded the word KACHASU, then had a number of distillers come up with variations and on a national level sell it as a homegrown Zimbabwean product? Currently, TEQUILLA can only be made in Mexico just like CHAMPAGNE can only be made in a certain region of FRANCE.
Our by-laws in Zimbabwe are so archaic that street food does not exist. According to a report by MCA, the UK street food market is forecasted to reach £1.2bn in 2018 yet in Zimbabwe the by-laws are so archaic they are stifling the growth of such a global trend that could enrich this country with foreign currency. The model is that the establishments of street food are less capital intensive and are very innovative. In southeast Asia, a street food stall has a Michelin Star, a humble hawker selling Hong Kong-style soya sauce chicken become the world’s first (and cheapest) Michelin-starred street food stall. In Mexico, street food is amazing and is a hit with tourists and an expression of the identity, history and future trends of Mexican food. Chefs often g from food stalls to food trucks to owning restaurants.
Tradition is a huge thing in Mexico to the extent that it has become a commercialized product in its tourism offering. Take for instance the day of the dead or Día de Muertos in Mexican culture, death is viewed as a natural part of the human cycle. Mexicans view it not as a day of sadness but as a day of celebration because of their loved ones awake and celebrate with them. As a result of this day, a number of products can typically be seen on sale in the local markets
In Zimbabwe, however, our public holidays are mostly political i.e. Heroes, Independence, Armed Forces, National Unity. The unfortunate thing about this is that nobody has taken steps to figure out what things people can do that could be purchased commercially. I was born on the 25th of May 1979 which is AFRICA day and yet I have no idea how to celebrate it because like all other political holidays it was hijacked by the fact that 25 May Africa day is the day the African Union (previously Organization of African Unity) was founded. Apart from knowing that we do nothing on Africa Day.
Everyone I met in Mexico was trying to teach me to speak Spanish. There were books and videos everywhere. If you come to Zimbabwe the people taking you around would never make such an effort to teach you to speak our languages as much as they did to me in Mexico.
Someone said something very profound to me and that’s all I will share on marketing your country in this section he said and I quote “ The difference between Mexicans and Zimbabweans is this…In Mexico our drugs crime corruption is well documented in the media but you won’t hear me talk about it with a visitor to my country, instead, I will tell them about our food, our drink our events” he then went on to add “ The difference with you guys in Zimbabwe is that your human rights issues, you politicians are well documented in the media but when I meet a Zimbabwean they will never tell me about the amazing things in their country, they will spend time talking about their currency and inflation and why they hate their government”
People are everything to tourism. People are your first line of defense when a visitor lands in your country. Mexicans understand hospitality in a way I have only seen from Zimbabweans. However, I have seen something even more amazing about Mexicans that I would like to see more in Zimbabweans. Mexicans were unapologetic about being Mexicans yet I find Zimbabweans don’t have confidence in being Zimbabwean. I will be controversial and say that it is more important for a Zimbabwean to sound more western when speaking English than it is for them to just sound more Zimbabwean when speaking English. Pride in being Zimbabwean is important but I lacking. For example, in Zimbabwe, the Zambezi River which gives us Lake Kariba and Victoria Falls is home to the legendary River God Nyaminyami. If you ask about Nyaminyami in our hotels you will be told with a straight face that it is not true. Yet on a Disney cruise ship going to Mexico etc. Mickey Mouse is real and Tinkerbells dust is as real as the salt and pepper you use in a restaurant. In Mexico, they have a strong belief in their cultural myths and legends (I can call them that because I don’t know). The difference with this belief is that commercially it is gold.
Public transport is important in tourist areas, sightseeing buses and smart-looking metro buses all over Mexico’s cities. In Zimbabwe dololo (sorry that’s local for nothing). Public transport makes tourists feel safe, independent to do what they like and it also attracts another type of traveler. The budget traveler is more likely to spend on destinations offering affordable and safe public transportation systems like a metro rail, trams, and buses. Their ability to get around safely and more conveniently is a big plus in their decision making. I felt I could do so in Mexico City and Puebla however in Zimbabwe the cost of taxies is prohibitive in giving tourist segments like these a great experience.
There is an increasing amount of Air BnB’s disrupting the tourism space. What I experienced in Mexico is not very different to Zimbabwe instead of quality except the fact that some Air BnB’s are a true reflection of Mexico, its history and its heroes. I felt this added to the kaleidoscope of great visual marketing of the destination whereas our product offering from an Air Bnb perspective in Zimbabwe offers very generic hotel looking accommodation and less of a true African or Zimbabwean identity. The digital space allows for establishments to give great visual storytelling about a place by harnessing their ability to communicate that “hey this room is in Zimbabwe”
The Festival of Bright minds was held in a 5000+ Auditorium and brought into Mexico a large number of international speakers with great influence in various sectors around the world. This festival is great for tourism and what is more fantastic is that it is a Mexican born idea with a global reach. Zimbabwe needs to consider having festivals of this nature from a speaking event perspectives i.e. a Feel Good Africa event bringing the top thought or critical thinkers from around the world meeting with some of the most amazing minds converging in Kariba or Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.
In short, I learned so much from Mexico. Most of what I saw and learned I need to continue to unpack and discuss with other like minded Zimbabweans to see just how we can make our TOURISM GREAT!