Zimbabwe gears for tourism resuscitation
Zimbabwe is set to receive a whopping US$5 billion annually (about R60 billion) when work to revamp its tourism infrastructure as part of an aggressive exercise to revive the country’s fortunes as a leading tourism destination get completed.
Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, Walter Mzembi, told potential investors in Johannesburg, South Africa at a Trade and Investment Forum that Zimbabwe had identified tourism infrastructure development as key to plans to revitalise an economy that has been on a lull for almost two decades.
Mzembi said among other infrastructural development projects the government has embarked on to revive the sector include the ongoing upgrade to the country’s major roads.
Such highways that are undergoing a major revamp include the main border networks of Beitbridge border-post between the country and South Africa and the Chirundu border-post between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The Beitbridge – Chirundu highway connects Zimbabwe and South Africa to countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zambia and Malawi, making it the busiest border in the African continent.
Mzembi said Zimbabwe was repositioning itself for tourism investment boom through a number of initiatives.
Mzembi, who is also the African President for the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), meanwhile stressed the need to have an open policy on the country’s skies and borders so as to attract more tourists into Zimbabwe.
Through the vision, the Southern African country aims to attract at least 5 million arrivals per year and growing the sector to contribute 15 percent gross domestic product (GDP).
Mzembi said Zimbabwe was currently receiving 2 million visitors generating annual revenue of $1 billion (about R12 billion) income while contributing 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
The minister, citing Biblical verses during his presentation, spoke strongly about the country’s need to adopt an “open door policy” especially the opening of borders and skies in order to increase tourism arrivals in the country.
Experts have projected that the growth of low fare airlines in the country is expected to help spur the growth of the tourism sector as connectivity improves and the cost of traveling becomes more affordable.
Zimbabwe has decided to adopt an open skies policy that has led to the entry of some low-cost airlines such as Fly Africa and Fastjet, into the country while it has also relaxed the visa requirements for emerging-economies in a bid to increase arrivals.
In addition, the government has also run a campaign that is aimed at improving peoples’ perception of Zimbabwe as a security risk. Air Zimbabwe, the national airliner, has also revived its flights to the country’s major tourism destinations.
The expansion of the Victoria Falls International Airport is also envisaged to significantly improve the port’s aircraft handling capacity. It includes the expansion of the existing-runway, construction of a new runway, construction of a new terminal building as well as a car park and road network.
Mzembi meanwhile said presently the Beitbridge border post was receiving 1,6 million travelers. The border-post bridge is envisaged that its revamp, coupled with the upgrading of roads, would see the numbers treble.
He said the Beitbridge border-post was Africa’s busiest, which thus had the potential to generate significant revenues for Zimbabwe through tourism arrivals and departures.
Mzembi also projected the upcoming project to construct the Victoria Falls International Airport in September would culminate in the arrival of 1,8 million annual arrivals more, thereby generating more than $5 billion (about R60 billion) for the country.
Meanwhile, potential investors applauded Mzembi and pledged to attend the second Trade and Investment Forum that the Mail and Guardian Africa is planning for Harare, Zimbabwe early next month.
Zimbabwe boasts several tourist attractions, mostly located in the North West of the country. Among these are the Victoria Falls National Park, Hwange National Park, Eastern Highlands , Vumba Mountains and the Nyanga National Park as well as the World’s View in Matopos.
Other sites include the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, Khami Ruins, Matobo Hills and Mana Pools, a United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
However, arrivals at these sites have significantly reduced over the years as the tourism sector was not spared the economic problems that have characterized the country over the past two decades.
The country’s image has been dented since 2000 when the government endorsed a largely violent takeover of mainly white owned farms by the combatants of the country’s liberation struggle.
The takeover culminated in the government embarking on a contentious land redistribution exercise, which government insisted was addressing colonial imbalances.
On the political front, violence, blamed on the ruling ZANU (PF) supporters escalated while general polls which the country held during the period, were rejected by the West, thus exacerbating the situation.
Amid the souring relations, Western countries dissuaded their citizens from visiting the Southern African country, which was seen as hostile to whites.
Several airlines, some which have reversed their decisions, also pulled out of Zimbabwe.
The economic malaise also led to the deterioration of key infrastructure such as roads, airport facilities and structures at national parks, also contributing to a lull in the industry. Subsequently, thousands of jobs were lost in the industry due to companies closing down or simply being unable to pay staff wages due to the decreasing number of tourists.
There has been hope in recent months the industry can be revived as relations between Zimbabwe and its foes of the past two decades have vastly improved.
In recent times, the United States, the European Union bloc and other western countries have been working on normalising ties with the African
country after years of frosty relations.
Additionally, Zimbabwe has embarked on an aggressive marketing exercise to repair its image soiled in the course of the economic and political crises.
The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority has in the past few years implemented various programmes aimed at improving the country’s image on the regional, continental and international scenes.
In 2013, the country enhanced its profile by co-hosting the 20th United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly alongside neighbouring Zambia.
Hosted at the Victoria Falls, was declared the best-attended with a record 900 delegates from the media fraternity, 121 full delegates from the member states and 140 delegates from all over the world as well as 49 foreign ministers.