Quo Vadis Zimbabwe Tourism


(Posted 10th August 2016)

The challenges of some countries in Africa, to establish themselves as major tourism destination, appear to be harder than those of others, and for a variety of reasons.

Anti travel advisories, embargos, sleeping bureaucrats, failed marketing strategies, poor legislation and regulations, high taxes on tourism services, retrogressive Visa regimes and connectivity through major airlines are some of those nagging issues which need to be overcome to accomplish success in the face of increasing competition among African safari and beach destinations.

(Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands)

Today I am taking a hard look at landlocked Zimbabwe, a destination visited twice over the past year, a destination which both times impressed me and yet a destination where the fallout of a near perfect storm of circumstances has sharply reduced arrival numbers and given stakeholders sleepless nights.

Having met key staff of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority several times during the past years, both in Zimbabwe and abroad, I can vouch for them that they are not falling into the category of sleeping bureaucrats. Neither is the problem rooted in a lack of visionary tourism policies, legislation or regulations as Minister Dr. Eng. Walter Mzembi, the longest serving tourism Minister in Africa, has clearly played his role very well, including persuading his cabinet colleagues that the Value Added Tax on tourist accommodation got to go, that the dozens of police checks on public roads must be reduced to a more sensible regime and that grassroot tourism businesses, especially women cooperatives, must be given extra support. In addition did Dr. Walter also record success with the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to make reduced interest loans available to have hotels and resorts renovated, modernized and expanded before a second phase will see that boost extended to new properties.

That said, we all know about the issue of anti travel advisories and the negative impact of embargoes for leading politicians and the fallout this caused to the tourism industry. The falling value of the South African Rand, now by the way accepted foreign currency in Zimbabwe according to Minister Mzembi, has done added damage by impacting on the visitors numbers from South Africa to Zimbabwe, which thankfully have started climbing again after reaching low points two years ago.

Enter aviation and I want to concentrate on that part of the equation.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe, despite a revival of national airline Air Zimbabwe, continues to offer a very liberal regime vis a vis traffic and landing rights, including fifth freedom rights.

The demise of Fly Africa has been more than made good of through newcomer Fastjet, which, or so it is understood, may very soon commence a second domestic route from Harare to Bulawayo, long anticipated and no doubt warmly welcomed by the tourism industry.

It is infact this airline which connects Dar es Salaam with Harare, via Lusaka, four times a week, flies double daily to Johannesburg and also serves Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe’s best known tourism attraction.

(Aerial view of the Victoria Falls, Zimbabawe’s and Zambia’s most visited tourism attraction)

Air Zimbabwe was mentioned already, which, having resumed flights to Johannesburg recently added Dar es Salaam and is keenly eying a return to London Gatwick which, as the then only nonstop service, will give a major boost to tourism and trade.

Before you ask ‘Now what is this all about’ let me connect the remaining dots of what the headline suggests!

It is airlines like Kenya Airways, flying three times a day between Nairobi and Harare and of course big league carrier Emirates, flying daily between Dubai and Harare via Lusaka, I have in mind to bring on board for the promotion of tourism, working hand in hand with the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority and with the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe, to take a fresh look, employ some out of the box thinking of how to bring more tourists to Zimbabwe, either as a stand alone destination or in conjunction with other African countries.

Ideal combinations could be a linkage between East Africa and Zimbabwe or between Zambia and Zimbabwe but the cost of tickets is often prohibitive when it comes to adding more stopovers or next to impossible when it comes to open jaw travel segments between arrival and departure point.

The question must be asked, can Civil Aviation Authorities grant fifth freedom rights for instance for passengers on Kenya Airways and Emirates, who disembark first in Lusaka to do a tour of Zambia before then flying on to Harare to commence a tour of Zimbabwe? It would be nice, no doubt, to have fifth freedom rights per se on such flights which touch down enroute before reaching the final destination, but if not possible at least passengers booked on this flight should be permitted to use their airline of choice for the connecting leg of their journey.

Do Civil Aviation Authorities have the power to mandate a foreign airline to offer open jaw tickets without penalty on the airfares, like letting passengers on a long haul flight from Dubai disembark in Lusaka, do a tour of Zambia, cross into Zimbabwe over the Victoria Falls Bridge between Livingstone and the town of Victoria Falls and end the journey in Harare from where tourists can then start their journey home?

(Impressions from Great Zimbabwe, the ancient ruins of a mighty kingdom)

Countries as beautiful and attractive to visit like Zimbabwe, and Zambia for that matter, but disadvantaged through a number of factors, should start thinking out of the box and see how best to bring airlines on board, while at home Civil Aviation and the national tourism offices need to sit down and discuss such new ideas wit the aim to make travel to their country and between their countries easier and yet keep the cost down.

Would Kenya Airways or Fastjet not be happy to see added passenger numbers on their flights which connect a range of destinations in Southern Africa with Nairobi, Lilongwe, Lusaka, Harare, Livingstone and Cape Town just some of the examples of two stop routes operated. Were such an airline to be given the right for open jaw tickets without burdening the passengers with a surcharge, could that not open doors which were hitherto closed and which prevented such multi country visits to Africa’s most famous safari destinations?

(Nesbitt Castle, a five star hotel in Bulawayo_

Fodder for thought no doubt, putting the ball firmly in the court of tourism agencies, authorities and civil aviation bodies, to formulate a new strategy before inviting suitable airlines to sit down with them and see how more business can be generated for all parties to their mutual benefit.

Of course, the same thoughts can be applied to multi country visits in Eastern Africa including side trips to the Indian Ocean islands or in fact island hopping between the Vanilla Islands.