The Southern African Development Community (sadc) region is endowed with an array of tourist attractions, from manmade ones to those sired by natural phenomenon, and tourism business opportunities are immense and inexhaustible.
Backed by wild parks teeming with pristine fauna and flora, great water bodies and a wide variety of weather patterns from deserts to rainforests, 23 international airports and a reliable road network, among other things, the region cannot escape the diary of any discerning tourist. It has everything for everyone.
Latter day international tourism would want to sample tourism tapestries from more than one country to justify savings done over a lengthy period, for their first and probably last tour of Southern Africa.
Regional packaging had been a major driver of international tourist arrivals the world over and SADC is no exception, hence the setting up of the Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa (Retosa).
In the past decade, it has been largely difficult to sell a tourist package that involves the greater part of Zimbabwe, except the Victoria Falls. Zimbabwe’s government, under former President Robert Mugabe, had become too hard to market. The brand Zimbabwe had become largely unmarketable, despite spirited efforts by all and sundry.
The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority did everything in its power to market the country as a safe tourist destination but the country’s image on the international scene had become checkered because of political perception among tourist wholesalers and source markets.
Tourist wholesalers in countries like the United States (US), the United Kingdom, Germany and France – which used to push the bulk of tourists to Zimbabwe as major historic source markets - started shunning interior Zimbabwe, despite it having some of the best tourist attractions. The decision was based on political perceptions created after the country’s land reform programme in 2000.
The same countries constantly issued travel warnings and travel bans to its citizens justifiably and at times unjustifiably, warning their citizenry to travel to Zimbabwe at their own risk. That alone made it difficult for regional packaging.
Countries like the US went further to ban spot hunting in Zimbabwe and subsequent selling of trophy from hunts in the country, seriously damaging the tourism sector and yet the US has by and large provided the biggest chunk of hunters, especially from Texas. This isolated Zimbabwe.
Tourist attractions such as the Great Zimbabwe Ancient City, the Epworth Balancing Rocks, Nyanga Mountain and the cities dotted around the country, lost big time to negative perception.
A closer look shows that the Victoria Falls was the only place, during the hiatus, where tourists came through packaging from countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Namibia.
For many tourists, the Victoria Falls itself did not benefit as a bedroom town, but became a lunch town where tourists flew in during the day and left by end of day, as they feared for their lives.
Hotel occupancy suffered the most as tourists came for activities and retreated to sleep elsewhere. Night life in Victoria Falls went dead. It would have been many tourists’ wish to spend the night, relax and do many activities but time was limited.
Now, the new political dispensation, which has attracted the world and has triggered the stampede to Zimbabwe, is certainly making it easy for tourist wholesalers to package the whole of Zimbabwe or part of it, with other tourist attractions.
Many positive things have happened since President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over power in November last year and that includes relaxation of investment laws under the indigenisation law. Mnangagwa relaxed the mandatory 51/49 percent law, which restricted foreign investors to a maximum of 49 percent stake.
That has opened investment opportunities in the tourism industry as well, and more and more investors should be seen flocking to the country. The perception in the international community has changed and the region should take advantage of this and repackage Zimbabwe, as the greater part of regional packaging. – This writer is found at firstname.lastname@example.org