Politicians must accept last week’s controversial election results, which saw Emmerson Mnangagwa elected leader of Zimbabwe after serving as interim president since November last year – and shift focus to the future of the country. One such area, which boasts multiple opportunities, is the tourism sector. According to an analysis by African Sun Limited, Zimbabwe is currently ranked 117th in most likely travel destinations in the world as compared to South Africa which ranks 60th.
According to Rishabh Thapar, HVS Africa Associate Director at global hospitality consultancy, the new government and President has the responsibility of building up the economy, which is not going to be an instant fix.
“The country, which is under severe external debt, needs to be able to gain access to credit. The government would need to create favourable policies, stamp out corruption and create/revive its own currency – this requires their undivided focus,” says Thapar. He adds that tourism could play a massive role in this effort.
He believes that one of the major plans for the new government should be to restore financial and political stability by involving its skilled workforce in national building programmes and schemes.
“More than three million Zimbabweans are estimated to be living outside their country, having left the country for better economic prospects during the last two decades. This accomplished workforce with their experience of living abroad would certainly play a crucial role in the rise of Zimbabwe if they were to return to their country,” says Thapar.
He explains that a phase of restoring confidence among its citizens and the international community could usher an era of increased domestic and foreign investment and growth which perhaps has remained stunted for a better part of two decades.
“Tourism policies and infrastructure can create massive opportunities for an economy. Not only through job creation and direct/indirect income from tourism activities but also creating opportunity for interaction and business avenues,” says Thapar. “According to World Travel and Tourism Council, while the direct contribution of travel and tourism to Zimbabwe’s GDP was 3.5%, the total contribution of Travel and Tourism to GDP – including wider effects from investment, the supply chain and induced income impacts – was over 8% in 2016 and 2017.”
According to Thapar, most travel itineraries in Southern Africa do not explore Zimbabwe’s tourist attractions beyond the famed Victoria Falls. “This presents an opportunity. Zimbabwe has abundant natural attractions such as Nyanga National Park, Matopos National Park, Hwange National Park, Lake Kariba, The Great Zimbabwean Ruins and Chinhoyi Caves, which all need to be promoted and established into itineraries and tourism circuits,” says Thapar.
He recommends that a masterplan for all these destinations is developed to enhance the tourist’s experience and ultimately increase the length of stay in the country.
While the plan should focus on airlines, connectivity, hotels and tourism infrastructure/activities, Thapar concludes that the government would also need to invest into building a long-term tourism policy for preservation and conservation while providing incentives for private investments.