HARARE – Zimbabwe’s tourism industry breached the $1 billion-mark annual revenue last year as global tourists warmed up to the country in response to a brief period of political stability, according to a paper presented by government on Monday.

Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) data shows that Zimbabwe’s tourism industry generated about $900 million in 2017.

The country went through a military-inspired change of leadership in November 2017, when incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over from then 93-year-old strongman, Robert Mugabe, who had ruled for 37 years.

Mnangagwa’s administration immediately went into an overdrive, working out strategies to rebuild perception in global tourism source markets and rolling out reforms to stabilise the teetering economy.

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Several travel warnings in major western markets have been reviewed.

Zimbabwe’s Minister of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Priscah Mupfumira did not reveal exactly how much had been generated by the sector in 2018 during an interface with women with interests in travel and leisure.

Comprehensive tourism data for Zimbabwe is announced after ZTA completes its annual report.

But she said boom times had returned to the industry, which has taken its position as a key factor in the battle to revive a prolonged economic crisis that has recently sparked tremendous resentment within the population.

“You will be happy to know, your excellency, that our total contribution as the tourism industry was well above the $1 billion-dollar mark and to this end women played a significant role in this historic achievement,” Mupfumira said in a briefing to Zimbabwe’s first lady Auxilia Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa is the patron of Women in Tourism Zimbabwe, which was formed last year to help women make inroads in the sector.

Auxilia Mnangagwa

“It is our wish to see more contributions and activities coming from women in the sector and through these initiatives,” she said.

The Zimbabwe’s tourism industry has projected that arrivals reached three million in 2018, from 2,5 million in 2017 riding on the brief stability and aggressive marketing programmes that the country lined up following the 2017 change in government.

The brand rebuilding programmes include a bigger presence in international travel and tourism fairs across the world, which has boosted perception on the destination.

Mupfumira’s image building programmes have also led to positive reviews of Zimbabwe’s destinations in key global publications, such as the Telegraph in London.

After attending major exhibitions in Europe and the Middle East this year, Zimbabwe’s tourism industry is expected to attend the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) summit in Ghana at the end of this year.

Their presence is expected to consolidate the inroads achieved in the past two years, Mupfumira said on Monday.

“The national chapter of Women In Tourism Zimbabwe is participating at the upcoming UNWTO Women in Tourism Summit to be held in Ghana at the end of 2019,” she said.

“At the beginning of 2019, my Ministry collaborated with Women In Tourism to send a delegation to one of the biggest travel fairs in the World, Fitiur Travel Fair, which took place in Spain. The women who travelled with us have phenomenal feedback about new business that was created while exhibiting and engaging in Spain. We endeavour to have more women doing tourism business globally,” she said.

To rebuild the industry, Zimbabwe is combing through large swaths of previously unexplored wildlife-rich jungles to unlock fresh investment opportunities.

The country’s remote outback locations still have undiscovered treasures that could boost the geographical spread of attractions and drive revenues for the industry, according to Mupfumira.

She wants to review the present spread of tourism investment and infrastructure, then add new ground in high potential destinations away from the traditional resort centres.

This will be part of a solid strategy that started with a major restructuring of the ministry last year.

“We are moving from Victoria Falls and Hwange into Binga, Mlibizi, the eastern highlands and other destinations,” Mupfumira said last year.

Victoria Falls

“We want tourists to spend more nights in Zimbabwe. With aggressive marketing, we can improve the length of stay of tourists and increase the geographical spread of tourism facilities. One of the major issues is to have conferencing facilities in Victoria Falls,” Mupfumira said.

Dozens of multi-million dollar tourist resorts in Binga and Mlibizi have been struggling.

There has been a dramatic slide in tourist arrivals in the once prime tourist destinations.

And hotels and lodges have scaled down.

A crisis has been unfolding.

But what has kept Binga and Mlibizi’s tourism industry afloat has been the endurance of operators.

The world renowned Mlibizi Resort is a pale shadow of its former status.

This crisis extends to key resorts like Kariba, Vumba, Gonarezhou, Nyanga and others.

Mupfumira said the industry had taken off well after changes in government.

“The tourism sector is on a rising trajectory,” she said.

In the coming months, however, ZTA will have a tough assignment trying to convince risk averse markets that the country remains a safe destination after the bloodshed that rocked in major cities during the January 2019 riots, which left over 15 people dead, and hundreds injured.