afrol News, 23 November - After a serious lobbying by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) and other stakeholders, several tour operators have decided to put the repressive country Zimbabwe back on Western tourism. Given the country's very poor reputation in major tourist markets, it however remains to be seen whether travellers will go there.
The deal achieved by the ZTA means Zimbabwe is now again open for international tourism. The question that remains to be answered is whether tourists will have confidence to choose Zimbabwe as their holiday destination after reading all sorts of horrible stories relating to the gross violations of rights by the Robert Mugabe regime.
As a response against President Mugabe's dictatorial tendencies and controversial land reform programmes, Zimbabwe was removed from all tourism packages in the United Kingdom, France and Germany some years ago. This resulted in a steep decline in arrivals of tourists from its usual markets in Europe.
The Chief Executive Officer of ZTA, Karikoga Kaseke, disclosed that tour operators who participated at the recent World Travel Market in London had finally agreed to lift their unofficial "tourism embargo" on Zimbabwe. He said they had agreed that it was unfair to maintain an embargo on Zimbabwe.
The ZTA chief himself knows that it will take time before his country records huge arrivals of tourists, as evidenced by his statement that "arrivals will gradually increase".
"The cycle takes long and we will not see an immediate increase in the number of tourists coming from the countries but we expect arrivals to increase in the second half of next year and beyond," he told Zimbabwe news agency 'New Ziana' today.
This development comes at a time Zimbabwe is trying to bow down to international pressure because its ruling class is shifting away from its usual hard-line policies. It is evident that the regime cannot contain its spiralling economic and social problems, which is why Zimbabwe is trying to gain back some of its lost credibility. Also, Zimbabwe officials are trying to prepare for the announced step down of President Mugabe; a time when reconciliation with the West will have to be prioritised.
Before Zimbabwe's slide into repression, tourism was one of its main foreign currency earners and a booming industry. At its height around year 2000, around 1.5 million tourists visited Zimbabwe annually and further investments in the sector were planned to assure even more arrivals. The sector thus contributed with 5-6 percent of the country's GDP.
At latest in 2001, the sector collapsed, with hundreds of companies closing down and an estimated 100,000 jobs went lost. The fall was so steep because Zimbabwe's main tourist attraction, Victoria Falls, also could be visited from Zambia, which has cashed in much of the visitors that earlier went to Zimbabwe. Safari tourism mostly relocated to South Africa and increasingly Mozambique. The unique ruins of Greater Zimbabwe stand unadmired.
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