Nqobile Bhebhe, Senior Economic Reporter
Despite the sanctions in place, Zimbabwe remains an irresistible international tourist destination whose peaceful setting, coupled with unique tourism products and aggressive marketing, is a major draw for travelers.
Recent reports show that the country’s tourism sector is steadily recovering from the deadly Covid-19 pandemic and, ironically, numerous international tourists visiting the country are mostly from the United States of America and the United Kingdom, which imposes sanctions on Zimbabwe to have.
For the past two decades, the country has suffered from illegal sanctions imposed by London and backed by the US and its Western allies, ostensibly in protest at the accelerated land reform program the country has embarked on to correct the skewed land tenure that favored it minority of white farmers.
On October 25, Sadc and the rest of the advanced world will join Zimbabwe in pushing for the lifting of illegal sanctions that are also affecting the entire region.
In 2019, Sadc leaders declared 25 October as a day of solidarity with the Zimbabwean people against sanctions.
While sanctions have paralyzed other critical sectors of the economy in recent years, individual travelers from antagonistic states have ignored routine travel warnings against Zimbabwe, with official figures showing that thousands of western tourists happily visit Zimbabwe each year to sample its unique tourism packages.
For example, in the first quarter of this year, the tourism sector recorded 352,719 arrivals compared to 164,064 in the same period last year. The increase was a 115 percent increase in tourist arrivals compared to the same period in 2021.
Tourism revenue is also up 121 percent so far this year to $337.5 million, compared to $152.8 million last year. The huge increase in tourist arrivals is seen as a reflection of the global shift in perception towards Zimbabwe during the Second Republic.
Likewise, international travel agencies have continued to recognize Zimbabwe as a preferred travel destination.
In 2018, Global Travel Guides – Frommer’s, National Geographic Traveler and Lonely Planet listed the country as one of the top travel destinations for 2019, with the latter placing it ninth, the highest ranking of any African country.
Several stakeholders in the sector told Business Chronicle that a mix of unique destination, culture, history, experience, diverse landscapes and excellent wildlife guides is key to building the sector’s resilience.
Mr Mark Russell, Chairman of the Gwayi Valley Conservation Area, said the prevailing peace is a major draw for tourism. “Zimbabweans are extremely friendly. Tourists continue to visit Zimbabwe because it is peaceful, has very low crime rates, quality services and competitive prices,” he said.
Mr Russel said Zimbabwe offers mostly unfenced hunting areas, which is an advantage.
The managing director of leading Zimbabwean hospitality group Africa Albida Tourism (AAT), Mr Ross Kennedy, also praised the prevailing peace and said destinations like Victoria Falls also offer unique packages that attract tourists.
He said although travel warnings are issued by different countries for different reasons, the majority are based on perceptions. “A lot of it is perception, a lot of it comes from embassies that have a duty to their traveling citizens and passport holders,” Kennedy said.
He said Zimbabwe, whose citizens are known for their hospitality, is incredibly peaceful and beautiful, which is why visitors feel at home every time they visit the country. He said this unique blend of culture, community, history, experience and diverse landscapes has continued to offer visitors the best experiences with the best wildlife guides in the world, a great record in conservation and fabulous hospitality experiences across the sector.
Zimbabwe, under the new dispensation led by President Mnangagwa, is implementing a series of domestic business reforms, including international reintegration, that have excited a variety of stakeholders from across the spectrum, including tourism.
Since November 2018, when the Second Republic took power, numerous individuals, business delegations and large organization representatives have flocked to the country to explore various investment opportunities as well as leisure opportunities.
The country has played host to overbooked international gatherings at its tourist destinations such as Victoria Falls.
The government has also increased its efforts to promote Zimbabwe as a destination through various campaigns, working closely with individual and group agencies locally and abroad.
Overall, Zimbabwe is aiming to reach a $5 billion tourism economy by 2025 and the sector’s recovery has set the tone.
In 2020, the government launched the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy to restart the sector and further market the country as a premier tourism destination.
The Chairman of the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) Victoria Falls, Mr Arnold Musonza, commented that despite the challenges the travel and tourism industry has faced, the need for tourists to experience the country’s unique products is central to her continued visits.
“The main driver for traveling to Zimbabwe despite travel warnings is the flagship attraction – the Victoria Falls, which will always remain a must-see at some stage in your life,” he said.
Mr Musonza said extensive marketing by private sector stakeholders and the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority has been key.
“Our role going forward is to ensure our flagship products, wildlife and waterfalls remain safe and sustainable,” said Mr. Musonza.
To further increase the appeal of the products, Mr. Musonza said that sustainability is one of the key pillars driving international travel today as the impact of climate change has come into focus. “Industry players need to invest more in sustainable products and good business practices,” he said.
Mr Musonza said that if the country is to enjoy repeat visits, new products must show diversity with new experiences and not be copy-paste of existing products. – @nqobilebhebhe.