|The Courier N° 122 July - August 1990 - Dossier Tourism - Country Report: Mali (EC Courier, 1990, 104 p.)|
by Stan HIGGINS
Zimbabwes tourism industry is in a healthier state at present than for many years, thanks in part to the worldwide boom in travel and also to efforts by Zimbabwe to promote the country as a principal destination for visitors to Africa.
Although the country is landlocked, it has a number of attractions for visitors, particularly those from the northern hemisphere and Australasia. Chief among these is the abundant wildlife in national parks and game reserves, with the famous Victoria Falls running a close second.
A major problem for the country has been a shortage of seats in aircraft arriving from overseas points of departure. During the past year, however, there have been a number of helpful developments on the air travel scene: the purchase of wide - bodied, long - haul aircraft by Air Zimbabwe; the establishment of a third weekly service between London Heathrow and Harare by British Airways; the introduction of a second weekly service between Australia and Harare by Qantas and the introduction of a twice - weekly service between Frankfurt and Harare by Lufthansa.
A number of other airlines now operate regular services into Harare each week, including TAP (Air Portugal), Aeroflot and Balkan Airlines. With Air Zimbabwe connections and flights into the country by other African carriers, Harare is now reasonably well - served by services to and from major areas of tourist potential.
Another major problem has been the lack of promotion of the country abroad, mainly through lack of funding for the Zimbabwe Tourist Development Corporation (ZTDC), the parastatal body responsible for implementing marketing strategies. Various private sector operations in the country have, however, been successful with low - budget, high - impact blitzes on the travel trade and media in various parts of the world.
The forthcoming establishment of an EC - funded programme of study and assistance for the Zimbabwean travel and hospitality industry will, however, see a major improvement in this area of operation.
Zimbabwe has a long history of tourism, dating from the days when soon - to - be - US - President Teddy Roosevelt and the father of Sir Winston Churchill, Randolph Churchill, visited the country at the turn of the century, mainly for hunting safaris.
The number of tourist arrivals grew steadily over the decades, peaking in 1972. The start of the long war for independence saw a major change of fortunes, with the industry all but disintegrating in 1979. Independence and the wars end in 1980 heralded an upsurge, but it was not until 1988 that the industry really picked up, with a dramatic increase in the number of tourist arrivals from Europe, North America and Australasia. The 1990s promise record arrivals, provided the local infrastructure can cope with it.
The country has several distinct areas of appeal to visitors. The Victoria Falls, on the north - western border with Zambia, is a must for all visitors to the region. The small town adjacent to the Falls and surrounding national park has five hotels at present and will receive a major boost next year ( 1991) when the luxury, Z$100 million - plus Elephant Hills Hotel is opened.
This operation, being built by the countrys largest hotel chain, Zimbabwe Sun, will almost double the number of bednights available in the town. One of its first activities will be hosting the weekend retreat of the Heads of State and Government of the Commonwealth, due to hold their next summit in Zimbabwe late in 1991.
About 150 km south of Victoria Falls is the massive Hwange National Park, famous throughout the world for its abundance of all kinds of wildlife, particularly lion and elephant. Safari camps, game lodges and national parks accommodation provide adequate bedspace for visitors.
The sprawling Lake Kariba, covering nearly 300 km of the Zambesi River border with Zambia, is another major tourist attraction. Hotels in the town of Kariba cater mainly for Zimbabwean domestic tourists, but game lodges and fishing camps along the lakeshore and on islands in the middle of the lake are attracting increasing numbers of visitors from outside the country, mainly for the sun and the game.
On the countrys eastern border with Mozambique is the Eastern Highlands, made up of three distinct mountain ranges - Nyanga, Vumba and Chimanimani. Not as popular with outsiders as other tourist areas, the highlands have a range of hotels and lodges which have reported an increase in non - domestic visitors since early 1989. This large area is also extremely popular with domestic tourists and with conference organisers.
Other areas of tourist importance include the Great Zimbabwe monument, in the south - east of the country, the site of an ancient city and the symbol of the heritage of the modern nation; Bulawayo and the Matopos Hills, the second city of the country and a nearby national park; Gonare - Zhou, a game reserve on the southeastern border with Mozambique; Harare, the capital city and a stop - off point for nearly all visitors to the country.
Zimbabwes hospitality industry is diverse and expanding. The country has several large chains operating three - , four - and five - star hotels, as well as a large number of individual operators with smaller hotels of all classes. The international Sheraton organisation operates a five - star hotel in Harare adjacent to the countrys international conference centre.
Travel within the country is usually facilitated on Air Zimbabwe, which flies to main centres and most tourist attractions. Coach operations also run between main centres. An old time steam rail safari operation between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls is popular with visitors from abroad.
Despite the progress made and the expansion of the physical infrastructure taking place, Zimbabwes tourism industry still faces a number of formidable problems, including shortages of skilled manpower for hotels and other establishments.
The private sector, represented by the Zimbabwe Council for Tourism and the Hotel and Restaurant Association, has, together with Government and the ZTDC, been involved in discussions to look into these areas and define methods of overcoming them. EC assistance, through a multi million dollar support programme, will be instrumental in this regard in 1990 - 1992.
The prime goal of the industry is the attraction of greater numbers of tourists in the coming decade, mainly those on Zimbabwe - only holidays, but also those on regional holidays, taking them to coastal and other destinations such as Mauritius on the same holiday.
Concern has been expressed, however, that the number of tourists should not have a detrimental effect on the countrys environment or social structure and efforts are being made to cater for this concern when arrivals eventually - and hopefully - reach that level.