This is good news for Zimbabwe as the country suffered a knock in tourist arrivals at the turn of the millennium when negative perceptions wrought by the land reform programme stunted growth of the sector. Zimbabwe suffered from adverse media reports in the West and tourists generally shunned the country, preferring neighbouring countries which benefited from the onslaught.
However, since the era of the inclusive Government, tourist arrivals have steadily risen and the country has been witnessing a gradual improvement in the industry. The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority yesterday released figures which show that more than 200 000 tourists visited the Victoria Falls Rainforest last year, the highest number of tourists recorded in the past three years. Of these arrivals, locals accounted for 53 percent, an indication of an improved economy and higher disposable incomes.
ZPWMA public relations manager, Mrs Carol Washaya-Moyo said the figure was an increase from 146 203 visitors recorded in 2011. She said: “In 2009, 116 223 tourists visited the Rainforest, a figure which increased to 141 113 in 2010 and 146 203 in 2011.”
In December alone, 22 521 tourists visited the Rainforest and of these, 11 413 were locals and 11 108 were foreigners. There was also a marked improvement in tourist arrivals at the Hwange Main Camp and the Zambezi National Park in Victoria Falls.
Ms Washaya Moyo said there was also a marked improvement in tourist arrivals at the Hwange Main Camp and the Zambezi National Park in Victoria Falls.
At the Main Camp, Ms Washaya Moyo said 12 199 visited in 2009, 18 819 in 2010, 27 830 in 2011 and 32 483 last year. At Zambezi, she said 47 450 tourists visited in 2009, 58 598 in 2010, 56 475 in 2011 and 70 980 last year.
“Total percentage contributions to these three attractions were locals 53 percent and foreigners 47 percent. At the Hwange Main Camp locals constituted 64 percent and foreigners recorded 36 percent. At the Rainforest 51 percent were locals and 49 percent foreigners and at Zambezi, 56 percent locals and 44 percent foreigners,” she said.
The trend at these tourist destinations is most likely a microcosm of the situation at other major sites in the country which include Nyanga, Gonarezhou, Mana Pools, Matopo and Kariba. The rebound in the tourism sector is most welcome coming as it does in a year in which Zimbabwe will in August co-host the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly in Victoria Falls with Zambia.
Statistical indications of an upsurge in local tourism should spur authorities to heed calls for dual pricing that will see locals being charged lower rates compared to foreigners at tourist attractions. This was the case during the Zimbabwe dollar era anyway and will further increase locals’ participation in the sector.
We reported last week that most local tourists in Victoria Falls over the festive season only managed to visit the Rainforest and thereafter spent the rest of their time in the resort town walking around town or swimming in pools at their lodges and hotels. They could not for instance, afford to go for bridge swings, bridge slides and bungee jumping which cost $160.
According to discounted rates offered by one of the tour and adventure operators, helicopter flight and elephant back safaris cost $240 per person while another company was offering lion walk and elephant back safari for $200. Sunset boat cruises were going for $35 per person.
We feel locals deserve to enjoy their facilities at lower rates compared to foreigners. On the other hand, aggressive marketing of the country’s premier tourist destination should be escalated ahead of the UNWTO General Assembly because Zimbabwe deserves to reap huge financial rewards from hosting the meeting. In that vein, authorities should move with speed to ensure that everything is in place for the indaba and stakeholders are geared for the meeting.
We note with concern Tourism and Hospitality Minister Walter Mzembi’s disquiet with poor service delivery standards in some hospitality facilities in Victoria Falls. Minister Mzembi, who says he was instructed by President Mugabe to spend the festive holidays in the resort town, said if the decline in standards remained unresolved, this would impact negatively on the successful hosting of the meeting.
“It was a directive from the President that I should spend my festive holidays in Victoria Falls as a trial run of our systems ahead of the UNWTO General Assembly. Certainly, I was not happy in terms of services in some of the facilities…there is a downward spiral of standards across the board,” he said.
As we write, an inter-ministerial working party was in the resort town this week to assess progress in preparing for the global meeting. Its chairman, Deputy Chief Secretary Retired Colonel Christian Katsande, said the objective of the assessment was to ensure that the agreed projects remain on course for completion in readiness for the 20th session of the UNWTO General Assembly.
The visit was also in preparation to receive a UNWTO technical team due to visit Zimbabwe and Zambia next week between the 14th and 19th of this month. Everything therefore appears to be on course for the successful hosting of the event and we urge all stakeholders to put their shoulders to the wheel to ensure that all deadlines are met and the country is ready to host the world. Zimbabwe’s tourism sector depends on it.