Growing interest in cultural tourism worldwide cannot be ignored by the South Eastern region of Zimbabwe if the place is to tap into its vast potential and attract more tourists in the country for the benefit of host communities.
A cultural village can be described as an area that is designed to portray to visitors how a particular ethnic group lives. It displays all aspects of village life in one place. A cultural village will take a format of a museum.
The main advantage of establishing such a village is that it creates identity. Locals feel a sense of citizenship and belonging. A community has potential to develop if locals take pride in their environment.
A cultural village can be established by a learning centre or the community itself; Emganwini Secondary School in Bulawayo is one example of a learning institution which built a cultural village in 2011.
Before urbanisation, communities used to have their traditional ways of preserving natural resources. Chiefs played a pivotal role in the policing of natural resources and there were rules governing the exploitation of the resources. The forest was the pharmacy and people hunted to feed the family, with flora and fauna species flourishing.
A cultural village helps communities return to their original conservation methods and it is a cultural village is the link between different cultures.
Many Zimbabwean communities get connected with the rest of the world through cultural villages. It is important that a cultural village does not portray the local culture as stagnant and incapable of responding to global change.
For example, services like electricity, communication network (phone/internet) and banking facilities are a global necessity. If available, at or near the village, tourists are motivated to keep visiting the area.
Groups that have a direct interest in visiting a cultural village include local educated women who earn more money and have a much spending power as well as students and foreign elite class which spends more on vacation, scholars and students. Establishment of a cultural village can keep these groups on tour.
The influx of these people gives birth to the hospitality industry. Tourists require lodging and food. Communities can operate guest houses and eating houses that serve traditional food. As a result, farm produce from local farmers can have a ready market.
Tourists tend to visit nature reserves after experiencing village life. The cultural village can partner a tour operator to offer them a nature reserve service. Also, the tour operator can offer alternative accommodation if tourists outnumber the cultural village's accommodation facilities. Due care must be given to ensure that the tour operator and the cultural village do not end up killing each other's business.
Some tourists come to a cultural village for the sole reason of experiencing total village life. They would prefer staying in the villagers' homes doing daily chores like washing and fetching water in rivers, farming, fetching firewood in the forest and cooking using firewood.
Such a gesture would influence communities to upgrade homes as long as the traditional flavour is kept alive. As a result, local brick-making and thatching industries flourish.
A cultural village helps market the arts and crafts industry. The villages can act as a centre for displaying sculpture, art and design, and artifacts. Usually, tourists want to return home with souvenirs. These can be in form of designer clothes (tie and dye), weavings, embroidery, metal work, pottery, handmade beads, paintings, sculpture and basketry. The creative industry thus benefits.
A cultural village helps market performing arts and festivals as tourists require entertainment during their stay at the cultural village where they can relax listening to local story-tellers, local musicians and local poets.
They can also watch traditional dances and play traditional games thereby keeping performing artistes busy.
Establishment of a cultural village helps in the improvement of the road network. Most communities are accessible by road than by rail or by air but the rainy season usually leaves earth roads in bad state. It is wise that a cultural village don't suffer due to a poor road network.
Sometimes it requires the local authority to support the cultural village's road network. A good example is Chiredzi Rural District Council that improved road network to the Great Limpopo Cultural Village situated at Boli Muhlanguleni in Chiredzi south. More rural councils should follow suit.
Mahenye community in Chipinge south has received a donation of US$25 000 for its conservation efforts. According to Liberty Chauke, who is chairperson of Mahenye CAMPFIRE project, part of the donation shall be used to establish a cultural village.
"We shall construct a Tsonga (Shangaan) cultural village in Mahenye. The money is already available," said Chauke.
Equipped with the existing Great Limpopo Cultural Village at Boli Muhlanguleni in Chiredzi South and Kambako Cultural Centre at Chizvirizvi in Chiredzi North and the forthcoming Mahenye Cultural Village in Chipinge South, there is no doubt that the South East of Zimbabwe shall continue to be cultural tourism.tourism