By Byron Mutingwende
The aggressive worldwide marketing of Destination Zimbabwe that is being spearheaded by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) has borne some low hanging fruits that the country is ready to devour in as far as economic revival is concerned.
Riding on a wave of success due to the ZTA’s hardworking Chief Executive Karikoga Kaseke and his entire team, Zimbabwean tourist sites are receiving an influx of tourists from far and wide, in a move reminiscent of the 1990s when the country experienced a boom in the sector.
Indeed true to former tourism and hospitality minister Walter Mzembi’s favourite Bible verse that encouraged the people of Jerusalem to keep their gates open for visitors, Kaseke deployed marketing teams to Australia, Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa in a bid to increase tourist arrivals to Zimbabwe.
For nearly two decades, Zimbabwe’s political and economic upheavals under the Robert Mugabe rule had led the country to endure a negative travel balance, with tourists, particularly from the west who used to be our major source market, shunning us for other destinations.
In a clear sign that Zimbabwe has turned a corner in the right direction, many European, Asian, African and American nationalities are in the country ahead of the Sanganai/Hlanganani Travel Expo and are touring the country’s rich tourism sites.
This writer has the opportunity of accompanying eight tourism players from Britain, the former colonial master which led the onslaught of isolating Zimbabwe from the international community mainly for abusing human rights starting from the year 2000 when this country embarked on a land reform, on a nationwide tour of the country.
Our itinerary first took us to Bushman Rock that offers accommodation or day trip options, and activities such as vehicle safari, Bushman Rock cave painting tours, canoeing and horseback safaris.
This breathtaking facility is found in the Mashonaland East Province in Ruwa, Just 40km from the Harare City Centre and boasts a truly unique experience combining the best of Africa in one location; wine, weddings, wildlife, polo and great hospitality.
“Established in the 1930s, we are one of the only Estate Wineries in Zimbabwe and we believe we are the best. Our grapes are grown and nurtured on vines ranging in age from newly planted through to vines that are amongst the oldest ever planted in Zimbabwe at an estimated 60 years old.
“When Mr Mullins; a Scotsman by heritage but an apparent Europhile, planted the first vineyard over 80 years ago he had a vision of a vine covered valley of such beauty that it would rival the best in Italy. We believe that he would be very proud of what has been achieved to date and we invite you to come and share this piece of natural beauty with us,” said Mr Jono Passaportis, the Managing Director of Rockman Bush as he took the tourists around his site.
From Rockman Bush we embarked on the long, scenic drive to the Eastern Highlands. After driving through the beautiful Honde Valley and the Eastern Highlands Tea plantations, we arrived at what has to be one of the best kept secrets in the world. Aberfoyle Lodge is situated in a very special part of Zimbabwe. With rolling tea plantations, riparian forests and the Nyamkombe River surrounding the lodge, to be silhouetted in an oasis of true serenity.
At an altitude of 800 metres, Aberfoyle temperatures are perfect throughout the year. Winter temperatures average around 21 degrees Celsius.
The visitors were then driven to the Mutarazi Falls located in the 2,495-hectare Mutarazi National Park adjacent to the southern border of the Nyanga National Park. At the edge of the escarpment, one has the opportunity to view the waterfalls and the Honde Valley, some 800 metres below.
Edward Meade, the Director and Co-Founder of Supreme Adventures in the United Kingdom said the trip to Zimbabwe was his first in Africa and he found the landscape very beautiful and second to none in the world.
“I am fascinated by the fact that Zimbabwe has modern infrastructure and towns which are the foundations for vibrant tourism. There is need for us to change the perception of Zimbabwe by our UK folks from negative to positive. Zimbabweans have a very rich culture and its citizens are very friendly. However, I urge the authorities to improve infrastructure like the roads, railway lines and airports,” Meade said.
The entire British team is satisfied that Zimbabwe has a fantastic natural beauty but should renovate hotel accommodation and continue with its drive on improving its dented international image. Stuart Forster, a travel journalist from the UK said he had noticed a significant reduction in roadblocks along Zimbabwe’s major highways as an indicator that the country was ready to embrace tourists and create a friendly environment to visitors.
Jacqueline Brady, the Branch Manager of Ian Allan Travel said authorities should work hard to make visitors at prestigious hotels like Meikles and Monomotapa Legacy feel secure.
“When I took some walks around the Meikles and Monomotapa Hotels at night, I felt insecure because there are many street kids who threateningly beg. Nearby pubs should be protected, The Eastern Highlands is gorgeous but it seems there is need to improve on pricing because most facilities are over-priced,” Brady said.
Farrukh Yunus, the owner of the popular travel blog, The Implausible, said he enjoyed Zimbabwe’s ala carte and buffets but encouraged hotels to improve on the display and presentation so as to attract international visitors. Shgufta Ahmed, the Editor of Prestochampion said the Eastern highlands Tea Plantations are stunning and so is the majestic Victoria Falls and pledged to use her platform to put the “unfairly vilified Zimbabwe” on the international map as one of the best tourist destinations in the world.