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By Shelley Cox
Encouraging news on Zimbabwe in recent years has been rare, but should the increased interest evident throughout 2011, as well as the positive upward trend of International tourists visiting the country continue, the future of Tourism for Zimbabwe in 2012 looks bright.
Whilst Victoria Falls, as the ‘tourist hub’ of the country, has maintained a trickle of visitors throughout the political and economic disturbances over the last 10 – 12 years, the lodges in the area, like many of the others across all regions of the country, had previously been experiencing a severe drop in occupancy numbers.
In 2010 initial signs of growth in the tourism industry became evident with occupancy stats across the country showing a slight improvement from that of 2009. The year 2011, however, has shown a marked improvement with 7 of the main lodges / hotels in Victoria Falls alone having had their best 7 months (month on month) since 1999, and showing a total growth of 66% from 2009 with about 156000 room nights between all 7 lodges. Chief Executive of Africa Albida, Ross Kennedy stated, ‘These statistics are all the more positive given that they are not based on Occupancy driven by low rates, but are rather based on average room rates and Revenue per room available (Revpar) which would be the envy of many regional competitors in the current tough world economic environment.’
In addition, Zimbabwe National Parks records from the World Heritage Site, Mana Pools, show a marked increase of both Regional and International visitors to the area and Zimbabwe Tourism Authority statistics show that occupancy levels across the country for 2011 reveal at least a 5%+ increase from those of 2010. Areas such as Mana Pools, Matobos National Park, Masvingo (Great Zimbabwe Ruins) and the Save Valley Conservancy, which had previously been viewed as difficult to access, are once again becoming popular requests in visitor’s itineraries. According to Paul Hubbard, Resident Archaeologist and Tour Guide to Camp Amalinda in the World Heritage site of Matobos National Park, ‘The year 2011 has been one of resurgence for tourism in the Matobo area, with all four of the safari lodges in the area having had their best year in over a decade; occupancies have been steadily increasing month on month and year on year. Already preliminary bookings and enquiries for 2012 look likely set to surpass the 2011 figures.’
According to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), the number of arrivals into the country for the purpose of travel and holidays in 2011 had increased by a total of 8% from 2010, with the USA continuing to lead as the major overseas source market for Zimbabwe with about 17,351 US visitors having travelled to the country in 2011.
The renewed interest on an International Level has sparked greater confidence in Local operators who have been fighting to survive for the past few years. Refurbishments of lodges and hotels across the country have been underway throughout 2011 and a number of operators have added new properties to their portfolios. In June 2011, African Bush Camps opened two new developments; their family focused camp Somalisa Acacia in Hwange National Park, and Zambezi Life Styles, a static tented camp operating in Mana Pools along the Zambezi River.
In addition, there are several new developments that have been underway and are works in progress in Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park and the Matusadona regions, all of which are scheduled to open between 2012 and 2013. This is evidence that growth is not exclusive to occupancy rates and that occupancy capacities are also on the increase.
According to Ross Kennedy, ‘The result of the growth of tourism in the country with the downstream benefits to towns, the economy, employment, fiscus etc. is significant and growing. Given the current world crisis, there can’t be too many destinations worldwide with similar growth and increased occupancy levels.’
With its varied landscapes, it’s astounding wildlife and birdlife, along with its diverse flora and fauna, Zimbabwe offer travellers a wide choice of experiences and activities at competitive costs to other regions of Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, the recent announcement of Emirates plans to begin flights to Zimbabwe from 1st February 2012, not only opens up additional access to the country, but shows confidence from a leading International airline, and is evidence that Zimbabwe is once again on the rise and is a destination that should be considered when looking at travel to Southern Africa.