Is Tourism in Zimbabwe Recovering?

Society & Culture | By Luke Brown, Travel & Tours | 21 November 2014

In this article Luke attempts to discuss and answer some of the key questions relating to the current condition of Zimbabwe’s tourism industry, along with the future potential to become what he terms a Destination Giant.

Some of the questions posed include: What is the current state of Zimbabwe’s tourism industry? Is the destination turning a corner? What visions and aspirations does/should the destination have for the future?  How can Zimbabwe create sustainable growth and become a travel
destination giant?

What is the current state of Zimbabwe’s tourism industry?
We have, in the last four to five years, entered a phase of slow growth.  We have experienced average year on year increases in tourist arrivals since 2009, particularly in Victoria Falls and to some extent in Hwange.  Most of the growth has come about as a result of an improvement in the economy following introduction of the multi-currency system and an improved overall image as a safe and peaceful destination.  However the growth is far from where it could be and somewhat isolated, especially when you consider that places like Kariba, Mana Pools, Eastern Highlands and Gonarezhou are still struggling. 

The reason for this slow and irregular growth is firstly because whilst we have improved our image to a degree, we are still sending out a mixed message to the world on our national vision for tourism i.e. where do we want to be and how are we showcasing this to our markets?  As a result of this grey communication most people are still only exposed to the negative news about Zimbabwe. Secondly we are still hampered by a lack of access options into the country and also within the country.

Is the destination turning a corner? 
I certainly believe we have already begun turning the corner and we have a bright future ahead. What matters now is how we are able to go forward and implement what is necessary for us to grow to where we want to be.  This will take a team effort on the part of both the government and private sector tourism arms.  This must be a seamless and transparent cooperation.

What visions and aspirations do/should the destination have for the future? 
At the moment we are somewhat pre-occupied with trying to compare our position now with where we were at the peak of our tourism levels in the late 1990s. Whilst it is important to seek out the benefits of hindsight and learn from what we did right in the past, it is also imperative that we do not get bogged down and potentially dispirited by this.  We are in a different era now and we must look forward.  We must learn from how our neighbouring countries in the region market themselves as a destination.  South Afrika and Bostwana for example have widespread market penetration due to clever brand management.  Their national tourism ministries and boards have also sought close links with the private sector.  Through this close collaboration they have created real confidence in the travellers’ minds.  Then once they receive the tourists they follow through and send them home at the end of their stay with an incredible memory that makes them brand ambassadors.  Word of mouth then takes over. This is what we must aspire to achieve in Zimbabwe too. 

How can Zimbabwe create sustainable tourism growth and become a destination giant?
We have everything going for us as a destination – friendly people, a fantastic climate, diverse landscapes, amazing safari options, cultural and historical significance among so much more.  When you look at a country like Dubai one is always amazed by what they have achieved.  They are a Destination Giant in world terms and the reason for using them as a comparative example is because of the stark contrast they have with Zimbabwe in terms of their natural attraction.  Literally out of nowhere they have become who they are today.  Yes they have had the money to help them get there, but the driving force has actually been their vision, consistent hard work and determination.  In Zimbabwe we do not need to create much because the natural ingredients are already there.  We just need to be clear on our vision first and then work hard together to implement and maintain it. 
We are somewhat down the road already and credit must be given to our Tourism Minister Mzembi for being instrumental in helping us achieve this through his leading roles in securing things like the hosting of the UNWTO in 2013, Routes Afrika (Aviation Conference) in 2014 and the recent best world destination award we were given this year by the European Council for Trade and Tourism.  Some forward thinking from our transport ministry has also meant that our airports are being refurbished and expanded. Bulawayo International Airport has just opened its new international terminal and Victoria Falls Airport will have a new runway and international terminal by the middle of 2015 capable of handling wide body aircraft like Boeing 747s.  The main road from Plumtree to Mutare is being resurfaced and is also nearly complete.

We must build on this momentum going forward and if we do then the sky will be the limit, meaning the chances of becoming a destination giant like Dubai will be realised. Collaborative action and belief from all stakeholders will be key.