Tourism: Rebuild the image and they will come
Boosting tourism is one of the quickest ways to resurrect Zimbabwe’s economy, say businesspeople and politicians. The country’s natural beauty, together with the new political order and its competitive prices, so the argument runs, should make Zimbabwe a great destination. Next year’s World Cup in South Africa could help matters, if some of the tens of thousands of football supporters, and indeed the players, can be induced to travel north of the Limpopo.
In the north, Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River continues to be a great draw. The area’s first class hotels seem almost immune to the political realities beyond. This is one of those permanent features of Zimbabwe’s tourism industry that has proved innovative and surprisingly resilient in its efforts to weather the worst effects of the political crisis. To add to the list of obvious attractions are myriad game parks, the Nyanga Mountains, Binga Hot Springs and the Great Zimbabwe ruins in Masvingo. Zimbabwe is now preparing for visitors before the 2010 World Cup, according to Karikoga Kaseke, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority’s chief executive: “We are putting final touches in terms of refurbishing our hotels and lodges so that they conform to world-class standards.” A team from the tourism ministry is engaged in football diplomacy, Kaseke adds. “We would like teams to camp in Zimbabwe and we have favourable climatic conditions that are almost similar with those in South Africa. We have approached several countries, Brazil for example.” The government is also renovating the country’s largest football ground, the Chinese-built National Sports Stadium. Zimbabwe will offer the stadium to visiting football teams as a training ground.
For the culturally minded, galleries are preparing exhibitions of sculptures from artists such as Dominic Benhura and abstract painter Waison Mupedza. “We have experienced sculptors and painters in Zimbabwe, and the World Cup presents an opportunity for the arts industry. Some artists are hoping to increase their output while some are marketing their works in South Africa,” said Mupedza, who owns an art studio in Domboshawa.
The African Sun group is among the operators being positioned for the coming upturn. One of its directors, Farai Rwodzi, led the restructuring of the group in the middle of the political and economic meltdown. For African Sun, tourism in Zimbabwe is just the start of their ambitions. Rwodzi says: “One thing people never understood about Zimbabwe are the skills and intellectual capital that reside here. So we made the decision that we didn’t want to be a Zimbabwean-based hotel group, we wanted to be an African hotel group. We have a core of Zimbabwean professionals running it. We trained a lot of these people and are now using them as part of our team to go into management contracts in other countries.”