By Ashwert Kugara
THE country’s tourism sector is on a rebound on the back of a relatively stable economy and a peaceful environment obtaining in the country since the formation of the inclusive Government two years ago. The development follows the establishment of a coalition government in 2009 and relative stability in the pricing regime of tourism packages which have made significant strides in bringing sanity to the sector. According to ZTA figures, the country’s tourism earnings rose from 47 percent last year to US$770 million while the number of visitors grew by 15 percent to 2,3 million during the same period. The report also indicates that tourist arrivals were pegged at 2 239 165, representing an 11 percent increase from the 2009 figure of 2 017 264. This pushed up tourism receipts to US$634 million from US$523 million recorded in 2009, representing a 21 percent increase over the comparative period. International and regional tourist arrivals grew by four to five percent during the same period under review. In spite of the positive gains recorded in this sector, the country continues on a frog jump trend in order to avert various challenges gripping the sector. Economic sanctions and lack of meaningful investment remain a thorn in the flesh for full recovery of the sector. The gains recorded in the tourism sector cannot be mentioned without acknowledging the sterling job being played by the Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Walter Mzembi, in fostering a suitable and sustainable environment for tourists. Due to his dedication to service and implementation of a host of marketing strategies, he was this year awarded the best African Minister of the Year Award. This was against the backdrop of his efforts which led to the lifting of travel warnings by some of the European Union member states. Against this backdrop, tourists visiting Victoria Falls are now preferring to stay in Zimbabwe than Zambia, according to the report released early this year by Livingstone’s tourism chief Kingsley Lilamo. The majestic Falls, which is shared by both Zambia and Zimbabwe, provides an awe inspiring sightseeing and have become one of Africa’s most popular tourist destinations. Zimbabwe was early this month rated as the most habitable country due to its good weather and climate most ideal for tourism. This means that tourism players are in a better position to sell a product that is in great demand This acknowledgement and a paradigm shift among some of the global players has been a remarkable step towards bringing to light the concealed true Zimbabwean story. Minister Mzembi will be a keynote speaker at this year’s International Institute for Peace Through Tourism African Conference, which will be held in Zambia from May 15 to 20 under the theme, ‘Meeting the challenges of climate change to tourism in Africa and the developing world’. Such platforms give the country an opportunity to strategically position the Zimbabwe tourism brand among the 3 000 delegates expected to attend, drawn from close to 180 countries, according to ZTA. Meanwhile, local tourism stakeholders exhibiting at the Indaba Tourism Fair in South Africa have reported that they clinched a number of lucrative business deals, which is a welcome development for the nation. This is a clear testimony that tourism is a fast growing sector in the country. The show of unity amongst tourism players in the region lays a bed of hope and a foundation for building a positive image of the regional bloc on a collective bargain. Zimbabwe’s tourism sector is one of the top foreign currency earners and contributes close to six percent of the country’s gross domestic product, employing an estimated 200 000 people. Zimbabwe boasts several tourist attractions, including, the Nyangani Mountains, Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park, Vumba Mountains, Great Zimbabwe monuments and Matobo Hills.