With reference to Zimbabwe, evaluate the country’s potential as a tourist destination
Although Zimbabwe still requires investments in the areas that support tourism, the country presents a huge potential for the development of this sector. With unmatched natural beauty, exotic and ancient culture and unique food this country has great potential to become a preferred tourist destination in Africa. Tourism has the potential to create jobs, boost an inclusive economy and reduce poverty especially in the rural tourism sector. In addition, it can be a significant generator of foreign currency while contributing significantly to Gross Domestic Product.
To begin with, according to Croy, W.G. (2016) in terms of creating employment, not only is the tourism sector relatively labour intensive, it also tends to employ more women and youth than most industries, and creates more opportunities for small medium enterprises. While the belief persists that employment in tourism tends to be low-pay/low-skills, the sector increasingly demands high-skilled workers in areas such as in information and communications technology, and management and marketing. Developing specialized tourism niches also promotes higher-skilled employment.
In addition, Zimbabwe has a good base that could translate to a rapid and booming development of the tourism sector. It certainly has very beautiful fauna and flora, for example the Victoria falls that appeals to many travellers looking for adventure and relaxation. The government is making some progress in developing the sector, but with added private investment this pace could be largely improved upon. With the right strategy, according to Hungwe, K. (2005) Zimbabwe can become a major destination for international travellers from around the world. And, in the process, grow its economy.
Furthermore Elsayir, H.A. (2014) states that, by end of 2015, Harare held the 18th edition of the International Conference on AIDS and STI’s In Africa (ICASA). The conference drew over five thousand participants from ninety different countries. The event alone generated close to six million dollars. This type of conference can become a powerful source of tourism revenue to Zimbabwe. Events like these increase the awareness of the host country and incentivises the government to invest in better infrastructure, which includes transportation, accommodation and air services. The elements of relaxation, shopping and sightseeing usually come as a by-product of the conferences. Foreign delegates frequently decide to extend their trips and enjoy the opportunity of exploring the touristic attractions of the new country. Zimbabwe should continue marketing the country as a host location for large international conferences.
In line with potential growth of tourism, in July 2015, the Zimbabwean tourism sector gained international exposure due to the killing of a famous lion, Cecil, by an American tourist. Although the impact of the news was initially negative, the response of the Zimbabwean authorities to the case, showing a growing concern towards increasing measures that would avoid the repeat of such a tragic event, gained positive international recognition. This paves the road to more sustainable and environmentally friendly eco-tourism, which is a growing trend nowadays.
Zimbabwe has recently made some progress in the tourism infrastructure area. In December 2015, a new terminal at the Victoria Falls International Airport was opened to passengers. This state-of-the-art airport has a 4km long runway capable to accommodate large aircrafts such as the A380. The airport is expected to attract 1.5 million passengers per year, a huge jump from the previous 176,000. It currently handles five airlines, but it has room for many more. Besides being able to receive more travellers willing to see the Victoria Falls National Park, the geographical location of the airport is favourable to make it a regional hub, bridging tourists between different African regions.
However, as observed in innumerable cases, tourism does not develop before the introduction of a plan which includes upgrading tourism and transport infrastructure, calibrating fiscal incentives, restoring cultural heritage and launching national and international promotional campaigns. Improving the laws to attract foreign investment, fostering private-public partnerships in hospitality, and investing into marketing the Zimbabwean brand in the international market, could be the tourism sector’s first steps in gaining more traction in the country.
A consequence of having unpaid public employees, is that they will find other ways to make money for instance, the growing number of police roadblocks along many highways in Zimbabwe. Masked as means to curb road carnage, these roadblocks are nothing more than a way found by the police to seize cash from unadvised tourists. George Manyumwa, president of Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ), acknowledges that the number of roadblocks is detrimental to tourism in the country. From Harare to Kariba, in the Charara Safari area, a distance of less than 400km, it is not surprising to find up to 20 police roadblocks. The problem of the excessive roadblocks became so common that there are several stories of hotels reportedly offering a discount equivalent to the traffic fines its guests would have racked up on their way to its lodgings.
The choice of Zimbabwe as a tourism destination is still very rare among non-African nationals. The lack of direct flights and limited marketing efforts constitute just a few of the barriers preventing a larger growth of the number of international travellers to the country. Tourist find it expensive and time consuming to use other means of transport to Zimbabwe for example the use of road or train results in more expenses and limits tourist travelling in the destination region.
In addition, according to Hungwe, K. (2008) with the collapse of the Zimbabwean dollar in 2009, the country started using South African rand and US dollars as main currencies. Compared to other African countries, which saw their currencies devaluate in recent years, Zimbabwe became an expensive tourist destination with its dollarized economy. The low number of direct flights to Harare also adds to the cost tourists have to incur just to get to the country.
Tourism already accounts for a sizeable portion of Zimbabwe’s exports. However, this share could be much larger if proper infrastructure is put in place. Investments in infrastructure increasingly lag behind industry growth. Infrastructure investments such as in airport development, road and rail, and communication technologies are essential to unleash the potential of this industry and keep it growing.
In conclusion, Zimbabwe has strong natural resources, like world heritage cultural sites, animal species, protected areas and a high quality natural environment. It also ranks well in ease of finding skilled employees and female labour force participation. However, the overall business environment sector still lacks a solid base necessary to attract more investment. Rules on foreign direct investment, property rights and the steps necessary to obtain construction permits and open a business are some of the issues faced by entrepreneurs of the tourism sector.
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