(eTN) – Travelers who say they do not want to visit Zimbabwe because their dollars will swell Mugabe’s coffers are actually contributing to the detriment of the environment, many of Zimbabwe’s tourism providers believe.
“The environment cannot wait for political change. By the time that is
achieved much of our pristine wildlife reserves will be gone and once gone
it will be forever,” said Clive Stockil, member of the board of the Zimbabwe
“We need you – those dollars go into conservation. We have got too much in
this country that puts us ahead of our competitors in the rest of Africa for
us to ignore and not keep focusing our natural attributes.”
Speaking at the 2011 Sanganai/Hlanganani travel and tourism fair held in the
Harare capital mid-October, Stockil said: “I genuinely believe that it just
takes a few minor changes in terms of governments and global perceptions for
this country to get back to being among the prime African destinations.”
The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority’s (ZTA) annual tourism fair held at the
Harare International Conference Centre situated at the Rainbow Towers Hotel,
former Sheraton Hotel, attracted 746 exhibitors sharing 206 stands,
according to Tesa Chikaponya, ZTA executive director destinations marketing.
Hosted buyers from South Africa, Botswana, the UK, Belgium, Brussels,
Germany and the Middle East totalled 88, plus there were 120 non-hosted
Tourism providers found the fair much more favorable than previous
editions, but there was still a need to attract more international visitors.
“This year’s fair is 100% better than last – it’s a startling improvement,”
said Wendy Bourne, marketing executive for African Albida Tourism. “The
venue is better, and as a supplier I am prepared to help the ZTA with a
buyers list. If we can get the buyers list correct we will be on our way.”
Goof de Jong, operations manager Nyati Travel & Tours, believed the venue
much improved the fair but there was still not enough foreign interest.
“Germany and other European countries have a big problem with believing they
are supporting a regime. They are misguided. We in the tourism industry are
providing a good deal of employment, so by coming here tourists are
supporting the people of this country.”
“We don’t want aid, we want trade,” he said.
Typical of most tour operators in Zimbabwe today, Nyati was managing 10% of
the figures they handled in the 1990s. “We are ticking by and obviously had
to diversify. The travel companies that didn’t do so didn’t survive.”
“Hotels are refurbishing, the shops are full – again, the global perception
that there is no food on our shelves is painful and damaging. That is long
gone but that is what remains in people’s heads,” said de Jong.
Bourne said the same about foreign perceptions of safety. “What tourists
discover when they come here is that it is actually a very safe country.
Like anywhere else in the world, if you go into dodgy areas of course you
will have problems.”
“Tourism has the potential to revitalize the whole country,” said Leonard
Nhidza, head of investigations for the Department of National Parks and
Wildlife Management. In terms of visitor numbers, he believed this year has
so far seen an improvement but was way below the numbers of the 1990s.
National Parks’ director general Vitalis Chadenga appealed to the
international media to apply pressure on the world community to lift the ban
on the sale of ivory. “We have 44 tons of elephant ivory and five tons of
rhino horn in stock of which we are not allowed to sell:
this creates a problem for us.”
The parastatal has suffered from lack of funds for years, and wants to be
allowed to plough the proceeds of the sale of the stock – which comes from
animals that have died naturally – back into conservation.
Around US$100 million was needed to manage all their resources. “We are only
managing to raise only 25% of that,” he said at a press conference. Poaching
was one of the more urgent activities to be addressed. “Poaching is very
severe and we need to work very closely with other law enforcement
agencies,” said Chadenga.
It’s obvious there are still many problems for the tourism industry to
overcome, but positive changes are apparent, the most recent coup being
Zimbabwe and Zambia winning the bid to jointly host the 20th General
Assembly of the United Nations World Tourism Organization
(UNWTO) in 2013 at the Victoria Falls.
Chikaponya said: “The nation is excited and rearing to go. This is the first
time the UNWTO has had a bid from countries that want to co-host.”
“About 186 countries are going to be represented, each with delegations of
up to 20 people. Zambia will be hosting sectional meetings and accommodating
visitors too. ZTA are still looking at the modalities of how we are going to
handle the event but we have all the capabilities of doing so.”
She said that Air Zimbabwe, currently flying but not to full capacity, would
be given a new lease of life. “The government is looking at increasing the
fleet so that we will be able to cover places like Kariba and increase the
frequencies to Victoria Falls.”
She welcomed the arrival of other airlines to Zimbabwe including Emirates
Airline, due to start operating from Dubai via Lusaka to Harare from
February 1st next year.
SAA had also increased the size of the airplane operating every Thursday
from Johannesburg to Harare.
Stockil concluded: “Our appeal is for governments around the world to lift
travel bans and to publicize the fact, for international tour operators to
engage with the local operators and put Zimbabwe back to the pre 2000