Walter Nyamukondiwa Mashonaland West Bureau
ZIMBABWE’S stature as a “must visit destination” for tourists in 2019 continues to grow after it was recently rated ninth among the world’s must see destinations for 2019, the highest rating for any African country by the United States-based magazine, National Geographic.
Japan also recently joined experts and magazines in endorsing the country as the best tourist destination while travel guide book publisher, Lonely Planet of Australia, named Zimbabwe third in the countries set to capture travellers’ imagination in 2019 behind Sri Lanka and Germany.
Government has welcomed the developments saying the re-engagement initiative, a peaceful environment and diversification of the country’s tourism products were beginning to pay dividends.
The Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Ministry recently launched a strategic plan that will be aligned to the Government’s Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP), which runs from October 2018 to December 2020.
The TSP prioritises key projects aimed at stimulating economic growth and employment creation, chief among them the tourism sector.
The ministry will implement programmes aimed at fostering tourism development and promotion.
National Geographic Traveller was buoyant on the country’s tourism prospects and trajectory. It credited the renewed interest in the country’s tourism sector to reforms by President Mnangagwa’s New Dispensation.
“Why now? With (Mr) Mugabe gone, Zimbabwe’s new President Emmerson Mnangagwa seems keen to invest in tourism. And while there’s been economic and political turbulence the safety of tourists hasn’t come into question,” wrote the magazine.
Zimbabwe trails Setouchi (Japan), Antarctica, Pittsburgh (USA), Corsica (French Island), Cambodia, San Miguel de Allende (Mexico), West Yorkshire (England) and Hong Kong.
In an interview, Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Prisca Mupfumira said the high ratings were a seal of approval of the country’s re-engagement initiative.
“What is important is that since the coming in of the New Dispensation we are now rated the third must visit destination for 2019 globally by Lonely Planet,” said Minister Mupfumira.
“National Geographic (Traveller) rating came out last week and we are in the top 9. The Japanese have rated us No. 1. The most important things they talk about is our national heritage, culture, people, climate and the general mood in Zimbabwe. It’s a peaceful country.”
As a result, she said destinations such as Victoria Falls were fully booked while airports were a hive of activity with inbound and outbound tourists.
The country is expecting tourism contribution to GDP to increase from the current 7 percent to 10 percent. The sector is expected to collect $1 billion in revenue this year and to attract 2,7 million tourists.
“The re-engagement exercise which we did regionally and internationally was well received and we have seen an increase in tourist arrivals into our tourist resorts in Zimbabwe,” said Minister Mupfumira.
“If you go to Victoria Falls, it is fully booked. If you look at the number of people coming into the country through our airports, it is just amazing. If you read the National Geographic Traveller story they talk about Zimbabwe being a peaceful country. That is what we are.”
The magazine described the Victoria Falls, the abundant wildlife at Hwange, Mana Pools and Gonarezhou national parks and adventure tourism offered in the resort town in the form of bungee jumping and whitewater rafting among others, as the hub of the country’s tourism attractions.
It also noted that the country was consistently featuring in the Top 10 attractions of the world.
The country boasts at least five World Heritage sites and the Big Five — the elephant, leopard, rhino, buffalo and lion.
Minister Mupfumira said Government was finalising the Tourism Satellite Account to accurately determine the contribution of the tourism industry to the national GDP and employment.
Current statistics show that one in 10 people were employed in the tourism industry but players in the sector said there was need for a realignment of the system used to capture the data.
“Tourism is a key pillar of our economy and once we conclude what we call the Tourism Satellite Accounts properly because we do not believe the way we have been accounting for contribution is accurate.
“The exercise will allow us to place tourism in its proper position. It may not be surprising to find that we could be the first or second pillar in the economy,” she said.
Government has adopted a multi-pronged approach to reposition the country’s tourism brand including the Clean Cities Campaign aimed at improving the ambience of the country.
It also includes improving the ease of doing business with reviews of visa requirements for 29 countries allowing processing of visas upon arrival while mobile network providers have been engaged to improve connectivity in the country’s tourist destinations.
A multi-stakeholders platform that brings together hoteliers, Government, Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe, airlines and immigration among others has been set up to improve the tourism product.
Minister Mupfumira said Government was working on improving air transport with immediate focus on the resumption of a direct flight to London which is a major source market for the country.
She said Government was working on a Memorandum of Understanding with Turkey for the establishment of direct flights between Zimbabwe and Turkey while efforts are also underway to tap into the Chinese market.