Zimbabwe tourism rises above unrest

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By Kerry Hayes

Recent unrest in Zimbabwe, triggered by a massive fuel price hike, is reported to be settling down, with the country going ‘back to business as usual’.

Sources on the ground told Tourism Update that the situation was currently peaceful, with no signs of unrest or disturbance, especially in tourist-frequented areas such as Victoria Falls. Cities in which the unrest was most active, also seem to be returning to normal. “Having spoken to friends and family in Harare and Bulawayo, I get the impression that the cities are back to business as usual,” said Shane White, Chief Marketing Officer of Wild Horizons.

“Fuel shortages, or rather queues, have subsided since the charges have normalised to ‘actual cost’,” says Beks Ndlovu, Founder and CEO of African Bush Camps. “The previous fuel charges were being subsidised by government at the expense of nett export earners such as tourism businesses where we would have some of our funds converted at the controlled 1:1.”

Internet connectivity has also been restored following a three-day shutdown, which left the country without Internet, email and social media.

This, combined with the unrest, has had some effect on bookings into Zimbabwe. “There have been some cancellations, however what we don’t know is how many people are not booking. This is our peak booking season, so we may well only feel the effects in the months to come,” says White. 

Sharon Stead, CEO of The Amalinda Safari Collection, says there have been messages of concern from international suppliers and direct business asking for ‘on the ground’ updates of the situation. “We know that the recovery time for a situation like this to rectify and build confidence again is a process we will all have to endure.”

“Announcement of protests like this will always affect businesses,” adds Ndlovu. “The primary difference is that of provisional bookings, and any new enquiries have dried up. We have increased our communications and have had to make phone calls to reassure clients that they can still travel as booked and confirmed.”

Despite the challenges that have arisen, the tourism industry has stood firm in its commitment to its visitors and guests. “Whilst understanding that the country is in a transformational stage, we continue, as an industry, to promote and focus on the positive developments and perceptions that Zimbabwe ultimately strives for,” says Stead.

“We are not ignorant of what is taking place in our country, but we are at this stage confident of the safety of guests travelling to Zimbabwe,” says Shelley Cox, Marketing and Sales Director of Africa Conservation Travel. “Operators have put in place measures to ensure the quality of the guest/visitor experience is not impacted, and that their safety remains our top priority. The tourism industry here is a large revenue generator, supporting the livelihoods of a large number within the local population, and the risk we run if tourism does not continue, is the devastating impact this would have to the loss of livelihoods of thousands of families employed and benefiting from tourism, as well as the loss of conservation habitats. So we are all working together and in constant dialogue to not only monitor the situation, but to ensure we are all well positioned to look after those who continue to have faith in us to visit this magnificent and beautiful country.”

Graham Simmonds, Zambezi Travel Shop Manager, Wilderness Safaris, states the sentiment of many tourism players in Zimbabwe: “No matter the thoughts on the recent protests, staying away from Zimbabwe as a tourist will only serve to affect the everyday Zimbabwean who is working hard at their job to provide a world-class tourism destination for our international guests; which in turn helps to spill over into other areas of the country in a positive effect. The country is safe for tourists to visit and still offers an amazing holiday, despite all it has been through. If you want to help Zimbabwe grow, then visiting the country is the best way to do so.” – Tourism Update

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