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Diary of a traveller: an emotional lunch


Worst job ... ZTA boss Karikoga Kaseke with journalists

17/11/2009 00:00:00
by Scott Ramsay
 
Thankless job ... Zimbabwe Tourism Authority staff
 
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Day two from our travel writer Scott Ramsey's Zimbabwe diary. CLICK HERE to read Part One of Five:

Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 October

THE Sanganai travel trade show is termed “World Travel and Tourism Africa Fair”, and its tagline is: “Where the World Meets Africa”.

The show occupied several small halls. A variety of enthusiastic local exhibitors were showing off their tourism products and services.

It was clear that everyone there was desperate to do business, and to boost the tourism sector. But, unfortunately, it lacked any big-name international tourism operators, and unsurprisingly – given the massive knock that tourism has taken in Zimbabwe - the show wasn’t up to international standards.

The exhibitors that were present were passionate, but several told me that they were not doing enough business with the 234 buyers, more than half of whom were flown into the country on a freebie trip.

The show also needed a spruce-up. The area in which it took place was dilapidated, and the quality of the stands at the show was poor. And public turnout was minimal.

The Chief Executive of ZTA Karikoga Kaseke “admitted that organisers had not done much to encourage people to visit the stands,” according to this Global Travel Industry News article.

All this is to be expected though, as the Tourism Authority hasn’t had an easy job promoting the country.

According to a BBC article from March 2001, in 1999 more than 1,4 million people visited Zimbabwe. By 2001, numbers had dropped by 75%. The reason? “At least 30 opposition supporters and eight white commercial farmers have been murdered by suspected independence war veterans who have forcefully occupied more than 1,600 farms,” says the BBC article published in the same year.

And even the World Heritage Site and world famous Victoria Falls (usually comparatively immune from controversy) was targeted, where tourists were systematically harassed by “a group of ex-combatants."

Since 2001, there have been many more reports of farm repossessions and physical abuse of local farmers and opposition politicians. Most major airlines have pulled out of the country. Hundreds of tour operators have had to close down, and of course thousands of jobs have been lost.



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I spoke to a ZTA official and asked her about the number of visitors to Zimbabwe. She told me the official figure was 2,5 million a year, mostly from SA, UK, Germany and USA. But a BBC article from 2008 quotes a ZTA official as saying that visitor numbers that year were only 218,000. Then other sources quote figures of roughly 900 000 a year.

The United Nations’ Geoffrey Lipman’s task of improving tourism statistics is a definite requirement.

A perusal of Zimbabwean news websites makes for unhappy and disturbing reading. It’s clear that even though the MDC and Zanu PF have entered into an agreement of sorts, things aren’t changing fast enough.

So against all this, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority is to be commended for trying to do something in its own sector to make a positive contribution. It’s a pity that the country is far from ready to promote itself, especially considering that the surrounding countries of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique have comparatively paradisiacal status quos.

Yes, South Africa has a frightening crime rate, and yes, Mozambique is still a long way from being completely safe, but the overall scene in each of these countries is much more stable than in Zimbabwe.

Working for the ZTA must be one of the most thankless and difficult jobs in world tourism. If one can market Zimbabwe successfully in this political climate, then they have achieved the seemingly impossible. Good on them for trying!

Walking around the show, I met up with Sally Wynn, the founder of Wild Zambezi, an independent association which “promotes travel opportunities to the wild areas of the Zambezi River and Lake Kariba.” Check out the website: www.wildzambezi.com.

The organisation she runs is purely non-profit, and she’s determined to boost tourism – in her own little way – to Zimbabwe. She was inspirational, and someone who is utterly passionate about the country.

She and her husband Dick Pitman run a successful 4x4 tour company called Zim 4x4 (www.zim4x4.co.zw). Dick has also spent decades running the Zambezi Society, an influential conservation organisation that endeavours to look after the lower Zambezi valley, which takes in the spectacular wildlife areas of Chizarira, Matusadona, Mana Pools and Lake Kariba. They are a passionate couple, determined to make the most of Zimbabwe’s bad situation. If you’re looking for a guided 4x4 adventure in the country, drop them a line.

Then I ended up talking to Tonderai Shamurayira, owner and manager of www.magicalzimbabwe.com, a new tourism website that is promoting the country as a whole. He’s just starting out, and is establishing himself in the industry. He told me that Zimbabwe is going to get back on its feet one day, and when it does, he believes his website will hit the ground running.


Hunted ... Rangers are battling poachers on Zimbabwe's national parks

I also bumped into Major Moyo, one of the army men who is leading the anti-poaching efforts in Zimbabwe’s National Parks. His team is deployed in the south of Zimbabwe, at Gonarezhou, where most of the time they work to clear the area of landmines. He was ostensibly determined to make sure that poaching was eradicated in the area, but he did remark how much work they still had to do.

I went over to the Zimbabwe Parks stand, which, I thought, would be one of the more elaborate ones, given the enormous value of the parks to Zimbabwe’s economy. But I was disappointed. There was precious little information, and not much to keep you there. But fortunately I did find Padgewell Mazoyo, one of the marketing managers, and he was very enthusiastic about me doing an article on the parks in Zimbabwe. He seemed very keen to get more people to visit the parks. And more people should visit the parks!

Zimbabwe has some of the best wildlife areas in Africa. Hwange is the largest in the country, hosting almost 30,000 elephants, Lake Kariba is a water paradise for a variety of big game, as is Mana Pools, where birdlife is particularly prolific. And the remote Gonarezhou is part of the massive transfrontier park, bordering Zimbabwe and South Africa. I looked forward to our delegation’s upcoming stop in Hwange.

On Sunday, we headed to lunch with our ZTA host’s family in Harare. It was her nephew’s graduation from medical school, and the extended family and his friends had gathered to mark the occasion. It was an emotional event, with speeches from family members that left a number of ladies in tears.

The speakers spoke of the hardships of growing up in Zimbabwe, and the great odds that they had to beat. Underlying everything was their praise of God, and how good He had been to their family. It was a privilege to be there, and I came away even more endeared to the Zimbabwe people.

After the lunch, I went to meet up with an English couple, Graham and Sue Ford, who had started a primary school near Victoria Falls. A few years ago Sue's son Alex had died suddenly at home in the UK, while they had been on holiday in Zimbabwe. They decided to start a charity fund for a Zimbabwe primary school, in honour of their son, and today that fund contributes most of the money required to run Chidobe Primary School near Victoria Falls.

The couple comes out regularly to Zimbabwe to help at the school, and it was inspirational to chat to them. They remarked how so little can go so far in Zimbabwe, where people desperately need – more than ever - decent education, clothes and food. If you'd like to contact the Fords about making a donation to their school, please email them at gford@lineone.net.

I realised what I had always suspected: how all people – local and foreign – cared deeply for Zimbabwe and its people.

Don't miss Ramsay's diaries throughout the week


 
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