Can tourism rescue Zimbabwe from its economic crisis? – US publication says it is


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Two months ago, Nicole Doherty took a vacation to southern Africa, flying into and out of the new Victoria Falls International Airport in western Zimbabwe.

While at the falls, she took a hike, went on a sunset cruise and splurged on a helicopter trip to fully appreciate “the smoke that thunders,” as they’re known, after the indigenous Lozi name.

Off the back of that trip, Doherty is working to offer a Victoria Falls itinerary through her firm, Western Leisure Tours, which will take advantage of the airport’s many direct connections to fly her guests in via Cape Town, South Africa.

Doherty, from Midvale, Utah, may not have realized it, but she was using a raft of public and private sector initiatives that, together with the airport, are offering Zimbabwe hope for a way out of its economic crisis, and a salve for its dire reputation.

Even as it deals with 300 percent inflation, Zimbabwe last year recorded its best-ever 12 months for tourism in Victoria Falls — the marquee destination — and its western regions more broadly.

In 2018, visitors spent a total of 250 000 nights at the 10 Victoria Falls hotels surveyed for the Africa’s Living Soul report, up 30 percent from 2015.

Room stock in the town has more than doubled in five years.

After mining and agriculture, tourism is the biggest contributor to the country’s economy.

And Lonely Planet gave Zimbabwe its vote of confidence, listing it among the 10 countries to visit in 2019 — despite the domestic crisis.

The $150 million Victoria Falls International Airport — financed by a loan from China and with a capacity of 1.5 million visitors per year — is the centerpiece of Zimbabwe’s strategy.

It opened in December 2015 and now boasts direct flights to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Nairobi (Kenya), Windhoek (Namibia) and Gaborone (Botswana) several times weekly, plus daily services to Cape Town and Johannesburg (South Africa) and Harare and Bulawayo (Zimbabwe).

This has allowed travel agents to design itineraries that combine big-ticket destinations on the continent while keeping transit times short. The country has eased visa requirements too.

Hotels, lodges and restaurants have benefited from concessions granted by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

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The Insider

The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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