Tuesday, August 27, 2013

UNWTO Opening Ceremony

Last night was the Opening Ceremony for the UNWTO General Assembly.  To sum up my experience in just a few words: “fun, chaos, long speeches, hungry attendees.”

Since the UNWTO is being co-hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia that means there is twice the protocol, twice as many VIPs,  and twice the opportunity for confusion to occur.  As many of those of you reading this blog know, I formerly worked in the events industry and I often teach courses in event management to my students back in Texas.  Last night’s event highlighted practically everything I tell my students about in that class.
The Opening Ceremony was held at the historic Victoria Falls Hotel which is about 5 miles from where I’m staying.  Buses were transporting attendees from the official delegate hotels, including mine.  However, President Mugabe of Zimbabwe has been staying here at the Elephant Hills Hotel, which makes things infinitely more challenging.  We have to go through metal detectors and have belongings x-rayed each time we enter the hotel.  His car is parked right out front with a team of security surrounding it at all times, along with about 100 police scattered around the property, and each time he arrives and departs they roll out the red carpet.  Literately!  There is a red carpet which he walks on from the entrance of the hotel out to his car.

Due to the President being here all the buses from my hotel were forced to wait until he left, thus we all arrived a bit late for the event.  Not that it mattered, because there were about 5,000 people at the Opening Ceremony which meant arrivals took a considerable amount of time.  However, since we arrived later than most empty seats were difficult to locate.  Fortunately I was with a friend who convinced a server to bring us two chairs and then we found some other people we knew and joined their table.
But, before we could eat we had to witness the official arrivals and welcomes.  First the Zimbabwean VP arrived, then the Zambia VP, then the UNWTO Secretary General, then President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, then President Sata of Zambia, and finally the other Heads of State.  Once they were all present and introduced we listed to the Zambian national anthem, and then the Zimbabwe national anthem.  See how this was a little long?  At this point no one had even made a speech yet.

To expedite this description I will just list in order what happened next: prayer for dinner, safe travels and a productive conference; welcome remarks by Zimbabwean Minister of Tourism and Hospitality; remarks from the Zambian Minister of Tourism and Arts; remarks from the UNWTO Secretary General; address from President Sata; address from President Mugabe; lighting of the Victoria Falls Bridge and fireworks; address from VP of Zimbabwe.  Then we were told we could eat.  According to our program dinner was supposed to begin at 8:00pm.  Dinner was finally served at 9:42pm.  Better late than never?  I guess.
Overall, I would say it was very interesting.  Some of the comments made by the politicians were quite comical.  For instance, President Mugabe referred to President Sata as his “Siamese president.”  I suppose that is because the two of them have relatively good relations now and are “joined at the hip,” at least for the conference.

The Opening Ceremony took place outside, thus my pictures aren’t particularly good since it was nighttime.  But here are a few I thought you might enjoy.  Here is the caravan of vehicles which comprised President Mugabe’s motorcade:

This is the backside of the Victoria Falls Hotel with the Presidents and other Heads of State arriving through the arch and lots of tables in the forefront of hungry delegates:
Apparently most conferences here in Africa involve a ribbon cutting.  Instead of doing this, the Victoria Falls Bridge was illuminating in the distance and fireworks were set off to announce the official opening of the conference:

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