How to Save Tourism in Zimbabwe
by Josh Elliott
A recently published analysis by Africa Sun LTD placed Zimbabwe 117th among the most likely travel destinations on the planet.
When you consider for a moment that our much more dangerous neighbour South Africa is ranked 60th, it really puts into context the enormous wasted potential of the Zimbabwean tourism industry.
The Lonely Planet Guide made Zimbabwe one of it’s “Top 3 places to Visit in 2019.”
“International travelers want to see conservation and preservation not decimation” –Josh Elliott,Managing Director, Matobo Hills Lodge
This recognition really highlighted the massive tourism opportunities the country has at its fingertips. Tourism has the ability to alleviate both the current economic and political instability in Zimbabwe – it just has to be harnessed appropriately.
Tourism has the ability to alleviate both the current economic and political instability in Zimbabwe – it just has to be harnessed appropriately.
To do this we need to restore both international and domestic confidence in our products and in our ability to deliver world class experiences.
Recent sensational stories of baby Elephants being shipped to China and Elephants being shot by rich American hunters might bring a tiny amount of short term gain to the country in the form of capital but in terms of long-term tourism, destination management as well as general goodwill, it is hugely detrimental to all stakeholders in the Industry.
It is not the job of the National Parks to sell off assets that belong to the Zimbabwean people, it is their job to protect them!
International travelers are savvy and aware people, they will not support countries that they see as dishonest, difficult or corrupt.
They want to see conservation and preservation not decimation.
Travel & Tourism made up 3% of Zimbabwe’s GDP in 2017-2018, substantially lower than the world-wide average of well over 8% over the same two years.
So how can we fix tourism in Zimbabwe?
The Victoria Falls Problem
Most travel itineraries to Southern Africa do not include any Zimbabwean tourist attractions beyond Victoria Falls.
Zimbabwe is blessed with dozens of incredible tourist attractions from Nyanga to Great Zimbabwe to Matobo Hills to Kariba. Yet a paltry sum of people visit these places.
It is a tragedy.
People just do not know what is out there or what they are missing out on and if they do, they are scared to go, scared that they won’t find fuel, scared the police will stop them on the road and ask for a bribe.
A plan for the whole country – True Value
One Solution to fix this problem would be for The Zimbabwe National Parks to get with the times.Imagine if in addition to getting tickets at the Victoria Falls gate, you could also buy an App.
The “Zimbabwe National Parks” App it would cost say $40 to buy.
Not only would this App give you entry to Victoria Falls, it would for 3 weeks give you entry to all National Parks in Zimbabwe, it would be packed with maps, useful information, up to date news and updates, everything any tourist would need to make a decision to visit the rest of Zimbabwe.
What an incentive!
Tourists have already paid to visit Victoria Falls and now they can visit any of the National parks in Zimbabwe – FREE.
Why not lead the way in giving international travelers true value instead of just being another overpriced tourist trap.
Zimbabwe does not have a great reputation for internal domestic travel.
Being able to effectively connect tourist hubs in our own country is vital if we are to entice discerning international travelers.
To truly compete on the global stage, Zimbabwe will need a reliable and competitive airline and a complete privatisation of the National Rail Services.
Reliable transport infrastructure is what will eventually revive the tourism sector in Zimbabwe.
Tourists are desperate to visit Zimbabwe, they just don’t want it to be difficult. Daily and reliable air, road and rail transport services would alleviate much tourist angst.
The lack of money and a lack of discipline in maintaining basic facilities has seen a real drop in infrastructure standards.
Zimbabwe needs to build a long term tourism policy for the systematic upgrades of all our major tourist hubs.
Whilst that might not seem like a feasible idea from a financial point of view, the government could always provide incentives for substantial private investment that would boost the entire area’s trade and provide employment.
How to Change the Image of Zimbabwe
Have you watched English Premier League football lately?
If you are unfortunate enough to be an Arsenal fan (as I am) then you will see “Visit Rwanda” plastered over the players arm every match day.
If you watch CNN or BBC News you will be bombarded by “Visit South Africa” adverts coming your way every few minutes. You can’t miss it – that’s the point
Let’s get our story out there
Heard much positive news from Zimbabwe lately?
In this modern day and age it is all about exposure, getting the message out and more importantly getting the message to the right people.
A branded Instagram campaign using the right influencers would do miracles for (relatively) very little money.
Imagine paying somebody like Kendall Jenner to visit Zimbabwe for two weeks and share her experiences on Instagram with real stories.
Suddenly in two weeks 100 million young and wealthy Americans would know what a wonderful place Zimbabwe was to visit.
Do it with a dozen or so of the right profile of influencers and you have an entire army of people not only educated and wealthy but excited about the possibility of visiting Zimbabwe.
We need to make every little detail as easy as possible for international travellers
Zimbabwean tourism has unlimited potential, the potential to be amongst the most successful safari destination in Africa but we cannot just build a “seven- star” resort ( whatever that means ) in the middle of Victoria Falls and assume all of a sudden the masses will flock.
Instead of obnoxious theme parks and tacky hotels, let’s be authentically Zimbabwean, let’s focus on what we are best at which is being a friendly, warm people who are caring, smiling, proud hosts.
Zimbabwe should focus on getting every little detail right. From the moment an eager tourist arrives at the airport or the border post we must focus on making that persons experience incredible. Small steps – have friendly staff at the airports with bottled water, maps, information, free caps…whatever.
Let’s face it Zimbabwe comes with a reputation so any tourists who brave all the terrible media they consume to actually come, see and spend money here should be exulted and cherished.