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27/06/2013 00:00:00
by Business Reporter
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ZIMBABWE plans to aggressively promote its tourism to Chinese tourists, relax visa restrictions, and boost air connectivity to grab a bigger share of the world's largest outbound tourist market, the country's tourism chief said.

The country boasts one of the world's most spectacular waterfalls – the Victoria Falls, but a decade of economic stagnation has taken its toll on tourism, leaving a huge market potential relatively untapped.

However, in an interview with a Chinese news agency Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) chief executive Karikoga Kaseke said the country has "waken up from the sleep" to catch up with a previously-set ambitious vision to receive 50,000 Chinese tourists annually by 2015.

That would mean a roughly ten times rise from the less than 5,000 Chinese tourists to visit Zimbabwe in 2012, according to the official figures.

"China has given us the proved destination status, but we have not taken advantages of that approval," Kaseke said. "That vision now proves to be a nightmare. But a nightmare is what we have when we are sleeping. "

Overall, nearly 1.8 million tourists visited Zimbabwe in 2012, but more than 70 percent were nationals from neighbouring countries, according to a latest released government tourism report.

Tourism revenue last year was about US$749 million, thanks to big spenders like Chinese, Japanese, and Western tourists who make up roughly 10 percent of the total tourist arrivals, the report says.

According to the ZTA's first quarter report, the number of Chinese tourists grew an impressive 165 percent from a year ago to 3,714 in the first three months, making China surpass Japan to become Zimbabwe's top tourism source market in Asia.

Although the entire Asian market accounted for only 3 percent of the total tourist arrivals, the report says the market will keep growing and the trend is commendable "considering that China is the world's top tourism outbound and spending market."

Statistics show there were 22.6 million Chinese tourists went abroad in the first quarter of 2013 with the swelling middle class beginning to set their eyes on the African continent.

But distance and safety concerns are holding off the Chinese tourists to Africa. For those who did venture to sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya and South Africa remain the top choices. Mauritius and Seychelles are most likely to follow as the two peaceful Indian Ocean island states adopt visa free policies towards Chinese tourists.


Kaseke said Zimbabwe is more than happy to grant China a Category A (visa free) status but because the visa regime applies reciprocally a change of the visa regime needs to be agreed upon by the both countries.

But he said ZTA is piloting an E-VISA platform for China that allows tourists to apply for a visa online and shortens the process to three working days.

Private airline

Kaseke, formerly head of Zimbabwe's aviation authority, also disclosed that he and other investors will launch a private airline in August which would also fly to China.

"Besides daily Harare-Victoria Falls route, Royal Zimbabwe Airlines will fly to China's Guangzhou via Singapore three times a week," Kaseke said.

The state-owned Air Zimbabwe used to fly to Beijing and Guangzhou, but a debt crisis that embroiled the airline forced it to abandon all international routes in early 2012.

Although the airline resumed flights to Johannesburg and plans to resume flights to London, there is no immediate plan to resume flights to China.

The ZTA report indicates that the grounding of Air Zimbabwe's international flights had a direct impact on the sharp decline of Asian tourists, especially from China, in 2012.

Royal Zimbabwe Airlines, once it takes off, will become the country's first private airline and breaks Air Zimbabwe's monopoly, a bold step by the industry’s regulatory authority.

Kaseke did not disclose details of the investment.

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transport Munesu Munodawafa confirmed that Royal Zimbabwe Airlines had applied for a permit to fly to China and that his ministry had granted them the approval.

"Yes, they have indicated the routes which they want to fly to. One of the routes is to China," Munodawafa said.

But he said the airline should go back to the ministry and notify it of its readiness to fly, after which the ministry would write to authorities of the intended destination, a process Munodawafa says "won't take too long."

It remains to be seen whether the private airline can thrive.

Tourism Minister, Walter Mzembi, recently told a media briefing that most of the foreign tourists to the continent arrive by air.

"No matter how big is our continent, only three or four African national carriers are viable," Mzembi said, adding that given the importance of air transport to tourism, the viability issue of the African airlines urgently needs to be addressed.

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