The ongoing assessment of tourism sites by a high-powered Government delegation has helped train the spotlight on an area of the country with enormous potential.
Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu and his delegation have been on a general assessment visit of sites throughout the country including the Victoria Falls. This, primarily is to acquire a first-hand appreciation of the sector as well as explore possibilities for the resuscitation of tourism when the Government finally gives a signal.
What the tour, by the minister and his delegation, has accomplished is to effectively train the spotlight on Binga, on the south-eastern edge of Lake Kariba, which holds enormous potential as the go-to tourist attraction.
Binga, on the shores of Lake Kariba, is home to the only sand beach in Zimbabwe. Properly marketed and if made readily accessible, Zimbabweans will no longer have to fly to Beira or Durban for holidays on the beach or by the seaside.
Binga is thought to be one of the sites that should be considered as part of efforts aimed at resuscitating tourism, although much needs to be done by way of infrastructure development, accessibility and marketing promotions, among others.
This explains the tour by the delegation. While the road access and getting to the beach site itself are a challenge, this can only be an opportunity waiting to be exploited, especially in the post-Covid-19 era where development will be key in kick-starting economic recovery. While there is need for investment in accommodation, there is need for a local, regional and international promotion campaign that highlights the attractiveness of Binga as a must-visit site and its potential, including cultural heritage and fishing and boating activities.
For almost four months, most people have been confined to their homes. For many of these, whether local or foreign, in the short-term Binga could probably be marketed as best for adventure tourists who might see the low level of development as a pristine, exciting get-away-to challenge offering outdoor activities.
Mana Pools is exclusively popular for the proximity to the call of the wildlife, breathtaking landscapes and scenery as well as spectacular photographic opportunities for tourists.
Marketing Binga could be modelled along similar lines, drawing on its attractions such as the BaTonga Museum, as well as the magnificent views of the Zambezi River, the gorges, the hot springs and others.
Zimbabwe has many thermal hot springs, but the hottest are in Binga. While modernity has explanations for the phenomenon, the BaTonga believe the hot springs are of both of cultural and historical relevance.
Tourism connects cultures; so for the tourist — local, regional or international — a visit to the BaTonga Museum completes a process of cultural immersion into the way of life of the people who have inhabited this part of Zimbabwe, and across the river in Zambia, for centuries.
Along with the museum is also a vibrant co-operative run by women who weave basketry and beadwork, while the men produce expertly carved stools, headrests, drums and traditional wooden doors produced by master craftsmen.
Artefacts from Binga have been exhibited internationally, while the traditional doors are prized possessions globally because, like the basketry, they tell stories of the BaTonga people.
While there is ready access to Binga via the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls Road and a tarred airstrip, making it accessible by small aircraft, for tourists setting out from Harare and areas in the region of the capital, a considerably shorter route would be to access Binga via Karoi.
Government has commenced work on the first section of the Karoi-Binga Road. However, as part of the overall resuscitation of the economy, a deliberate policy could be to promote completion of the remainder of the link as a gravel road, because this will assist in opening up the area due to easier access.
Investment flows into this part of Zimbabwe will upgrade Binga into a good tourist destination.
Upgrading the route by providing a decent gravel road would create jobs during construction of the road, while accessibility to Binga will mean development of tourist infrastructure could be given momentum, equally leading to employment creation in setting up the infrastructure.
While what the Government delegation saw in Binga shows the need for focused investment, Zimbabwe — together with local players in the tourism sector — can begin to plan how to attract investment into the sector. This can be by tracking upcoming tourism fairs/expos.
An immediate one is the Dubai Expo, which Zimbabwe had planned on attending later this year, but which has been postponed because of the coronavirus-19 (Covid-19) pandemic.
Although the ministry’s site visits are meant to assess the sector’s recovery trajectory, what is evident is that the resuscitation of tourism is largely going to depend on how the sector attracts the domestic market. International tourists will follow what is happening locally.