Eric Bloch Column: Deterrents to growth of tourism

There is the magnificent Victoria Falls, while the wildlife viewing at Hwange National Park, Matusadona, Gonarezhou, Antelope Park and many other locations in Zimbabwe is spectacular. Very little can compete with the grandeur of the Matopos, the mystic of Great Zimbabwe, the tranquil beauty of Chimanimani, Vumba and Nyanga and Mana Pools, or the magnificence of Lake Kariba (and, especially, the sunsets on the Lake). 

These are but a few of the country’s foremost tourist attractions. In addition, Zimbabwe possesses outstanding museums, art galleries and tribal art centres.   The country’s cities and towns, and prime tourism sites have outstanding hotels,   lodges, bed and breakfast facilities, as well as exceptionally located and serviced caravan parks and rest camps.

However,  there are major deterrents to Zimbabwe maximising her tourism potential and these constraints need to be vigorously addressed.  If this is done, tourists to Zimbabwe will increase exponentially, with benefits to the downstream economy,  creating  much-needed employment, and revenue inflows to the fiscus.  Factors requiring the urgent and effective action by government include:

The horrendous delays at Zimbabwe’s border posts in general, and Beitbridge in particular. Touts demanding high facilitation fees.  (The delays at the border posts are also worsened by excessively authoritarian immigration and customs officials, some of whom seek bribes, although commendably the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority is actively curbing  such corrupt actions).

Exiting the border posts the tourist may believe that authoritarian hazards are over, but soon discovers that is not so. There are repeated police roadblocks (frequently being 10 or more within a distance of less than 500kms). Generally, the police manning those roadblocks are very courteous, but there are occasions when they are overly officious, and often demand bribes.

 

A recent example is the absence of a luminous vest in the car —  a requirement as yet to be gazetted.  Other issues arising at many of the roadblocks are the demand to see  a valid driver’s licence, a fire extinguisher or red reflective triangles.  (Why is it impossible for the police to issue the motorist a dated, coloured sticker, as evidence that he and his vehicle are law compliant, thereby enabling rapid transition at subsequent roadblocks?).

The valiant efforts of Air Zimbabwe’s management to keep the airline operational despite its lack of capitalisation by the Zimbabwe government (and formerly that of the Rhodesian government) ultimately became futile.  Without reasonable and realistic funding, the airline cannot function. The solution is to privatise the national airline so it can offer the required domestic , regional and international services. 

Another tourist deterrent is the high fees and charges for access to such tourist sights as Victoria Falls, Matopos, the diverse game and wildlife reserves, museums, and elsewhere that tourists desire to go to.  This is especially so of the charges levied upon non-residents of Zimbabwe, who are obliged to pay extensively greater admission fees than Zimbabwean residents. The excessive charges by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and other government entities is emulated by private sector tourism operators in general, and hotels in particular, being yet another factor which causes  falling foreign tourist arrivals.

The tardiness of governmental infrastructure development further impacts negatively upon tourism sector patronage. It is now virtually nine years since government embarked upon developing the Joshua Mqabuko Airport in Bulawayo as an international airport, yet it is still not completed. Until construction is complete, tourists are forced to use  a “temporary”  converted hanger, with insufficient seating and passenger handling facilities, inadequate ticket facilities, lack of secure and sufficient vehicle parking facilities, and  catering resources.

Similarly, Zimbabwe’s roads to tourist destinations are poorly maintained, with innumerable potholes, lack of essential road signs, faded road markings, derelict vehicle lay-bys and other deficiencies.

Bureaucratic delays points of entry that is air termals are a further deterrent to tourists.

Due to invasions of farms and urban properties, Zimbabwe has an international perception of being an insecure tourist destination; many are discouraged from experiencing the magnificence that Zimbabwe has to offer.  The absence of stringent enforcement of respect for property and human rights has reflected negatively upon expectations that Zimbabwe is a safe and secure destination.

Admittedly, in recent years, Zimbabwe has enjoyed growth in tourist arrivals, and in their contribution to the still ailing economy, but that growth is minimal compared to what it could be (and hopefully one day will be).

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