Incentivise churches for religious tourism

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WITH religious tourism having become one of the key drivers of the tourism sector, the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry says it is putting in place measures to incentivise churches in a move aimed at growing religious tourism.
Christians, Muslims and many of various faith movements travel all over the world in search of miracles and to uplift their faith.
As a result, they spend a lot of money in accommodation and other leisure activities.
About 300 million people over the world visit the world’s key religious sites every year.
Religious tourism accounts for US$18 billion of the tourism market globally.
Some of the religious sites visited in the world include Mecca, Jerusalem, Synagogue Church of all Nations run by Pastor TB Joshua in Nigeria and the Vatican in Rome.
In Zimbabwe some of the famous religious sites include Bernard Mzeki Shrine, ZAOGA’s Mountain of Prayer in Bindura, Roman Catholic’s Mutemwa in Mutoko and ZION Christian Church in Masvingo.
At least 90 percent of Zimbabwe’s population is Christian, a fact that government can no longer ignore.
Speaking during a press conference held in Harare, Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi said government will be giving incentives to churches wishing to build infrastructure for various purposes.
“Churches wishing to develop their infrastructure and otherwise grow their capacity will benefit from rebates and other incentives currently extended to players in other branches of tourism,” said Mzembi.
“However, just like other players in the areas of renting out conference facilities equipment, accommodation, restaurants etc that earn income, they should be taxed.
“We will not tax donations or tithes received by the churches as implied in some sections of the press, it is only the profitable business conducted by churches that we propose to levy and tax.
“By the same token we will take measures to facilitate and indeed grow religious tourism, be it national, regional or international.
“We will persuade operators in the hotel accommodation business to offer special rates during weekends when there is a flurry of church activities and travel throughout the country.
“This will of course be of benefit to both the businesses as well as the travellers. Our policy will seek to leverage the synergies between operator and traveller in a way that benefits both.”
Mzembi added that his ministry would create a department that would advance the growth and development of religious tourism in the country.
“We will during the first quarter of the coming year create a religious desk within the ministry complete with a board to steer its affairs as well as organise a national religious tourism conference at which we will ask our academic institutions including universities to give suggestions on how we can best grow religious tourism for both the social and economic well-being of Zimbabwe,” he said.
ZCC in Masvingo has already applied for designation for religious tourism of its 18 000-seater conferencing facility.
The church is currently building accommodation facilities around their shrine and restaurant facilities which are being graded by the Ministry of Tourism.
Celebration Church is also in the process of applying for designation for religious tourism.
Speaking during the same event, Kingdom Church founder Bishop Climate Irungu said religious tourism had a potential to transform Zimbabwe.
“Miracle church attracts a lot of people and you find that in the UK at least 10 000 people from the UK and other places travel to the mountains in Scotland where they spend nights in prayer,” said Bishop Irungu.
“Faith makes people travel anywhere.
“It is good that Zimbabwe has freedom of worship and freedom of speech, it is safe and secure because people have respect for God which is why the crime rate is low.
“We are building a US$300 million theme park in Nigeria called the Delta State Resort which we will be unveiling in December and will employ 6 000 people.
“We are building it in Nigeria because it is an African State and we are all part of COMESA and that way we are investing back home.
“The animals will come from South Africa.
“We are also planning to sign Zimbabwe so that we also build a 24-hour theme park in Harare.”
Meanwhile, government is set to launch a US$10 million Tourism Revolving Fund expected to recapitalise the sector.
Mzembi confirmed that his ministry has secured the money which is going to be used as seed capital for the tourism revolving fund.
“We have secured the first US$10 million from a bank, which I cannot disclose at the moment, but we are still negotiating for more funding from other banking stakeholders and of course the Ministry of Finance,” he said.
“I hope that by December we would be able to secure the privilege of the President to launch the National Tourism Policy and that is when I would, with firmness, be able to announce how much is in the kitty of the tourism fund.”
Tourism products in the country badly need to be spruced up after going for over a decade without capital injection as a result of Western imposed sanctions.

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