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Where angels gaze in awe.

Tourist visits to Zimbabwe have more than tripled in a decade. But with careful planning Zimbabwe has not only been able to make tourism its third largest foreign exchange earner, it has also managed to preserve its environment.

Tourism in Zimbabwe has experienced phenomenal growth during the last 10 years. It has now moved into third place in the country's economy after agriculture and mining, having overtaken manufacturing. At its premier tourist attraction, Victoria Falls, the latest figures available indicate that tourist arrivals increased from 46,288 in 1983 to 158,170 in 1993.

Within the country as a whole, visitor arrivals increased by 25% between 1992 and 1993. Zimbabwe's main markets are southern Africa South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Zambia, Mozambique - and Britain and Ireland. The latter produced an increase of 50% during this period, and there was also a significant increase from Europe, the United States and Canada. The total number of visitors for 1993 was 879,501.

Although the tourism industry has grown very rapidly, it has so far not been Government policy to make it the country's most important foreign exchange earner. At the recent INDABA tourism fair in South Africa, Ms Tandy Chinamora, Deputy Secretary for Tourism at the Zimbabwean Ministry of Environment and Tourism, said: "We want tourism to grow at a manageable rate. We do not want to overcrowd our natural resources and have a consistent policy of upmarket tourism. We are very conscious of the need to conserve the environment and to develop tourism on a sustainable basis."

This dictates the market policy framework into which infrastructural development must fit. "Large scale projects with more than 200 rooms must have an environmental impact assessment done," said Ms Chinamora.

Zimbabwe boasts a diverse tourism product. Currently it is the northern circuit - Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park, Bulawayo and the Matopos National Park, Harare, Lake Kariba and Mana Pools - being the most established. The main attraction is Victoria Falls, which is one of the seven wonders of the world.

Flight of Angels

Canoe trips and 'sundowner' launch cruises take place upstream, while whitewater rafting happens below the falls. For the intrepid, bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge is another attraction, together with flights across the falls by small aeroplane, known as 'Flight of the Angels', after David Livingstone, the famous missionary explorer, whose reaction on seeing the falls was: "On sights as beautiful as this, Angels in their flight must have gazed".

Game viewing is available in the Zambezi National Park and nearby Hwange National Park which is famous for its large elephant herds. Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city is en route to Matopos, with its fascinating rock formations and Cecil Rhodes' grave.

The capital, Harare, is a sunny garden city with tree lined avenues and a selection of art galleries (where the famous Shona sculpture can be seen) and museums. It is the main point of entry for overseas visitors, and is also a day's drive from Lake Kariba, another popular tour point.

This huge inland sea, 6,000 square kilometres, was formed by the Kariba dam. The Matusadona National Park is on its southern shore, and the vast stretches of water are studded with islands. In shallow water, dead teak trees create a surreal landscape. House boats follow game movements along the shoreline, and can be chartered. The Lake is also renowned for its tiger fishing. Downstream from the dam, canoeing the Zambezi gives a different perspective on game viewing, and passes through the Mana Pools National Park where black rhino can still be seen.

Zimbabwe is keen to develop its southern circuit - from Harare to the Eastern Highlands, Great Zimbabwe and Gonarezhou National Park - which would also relieve pressure on the Victoria Falls area. The Eastern Highlands are a mountain chain running 300 kilometres along the Mozambique border, with superb views into Mozambique from Vumba. It is ideal trekking country, and trout fishing is popular in the mountain streams and lakes. In the south eastern corner of the country is the Gonarazhou National Park.

Interestingly, discussions are currently taking place between Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa to link Gonarazhou with Mozambique's Chicualacuala National Park and South Africa's Kruger National Park. This would create a park as large as the Serengeti, and be a first for an inter-country venture in ecotourism.

The 13th and 16th century ruins of Great Zimbabwe are located near Masvingo, about half way between Harare and Gonarazhou. Modern dating techniques indicate that the city was started around 1200 AD. It is a magnificent example of a once flourishing African civilisation.

The increase in tourism has inevitably put a strain on the country's infrastructure, where the domestic airlines no longer have the capacity for the passenger traffic. Plans are in the pipeline to upgrade the airports at Kariba and Buffalo Range, and to provide night lighting at Victoria Falls. A new international airport is planned for Harare, and it is hoped this will be operational within the next couple of years. Air Zimbabwe is also responding to demands for increased capacity, and plans to launch two new flights to Cape Town in July. At Beit Bridge, the main entry point from South Africa, another bridge is being built to extend the capacity at the border post.

Accommodation is in short supply at the main tour points during the high season, and there has been significant investment in new developments and refurbishment of existing properties. For example, the Sheraton is currently spending Z$50m on refurbishment, and at Victoria Falls, $10m was spent on the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge which opened in December 1994.

Zimbabwe is enjoying an enviable tourism boom. Through pursuing a policy of upmarket tourism it has not suffered from mass tourism, but at the same time it offers tremendous value for money to the international tourist. Its tourism infrastructure, and its reputation for being a safe country to visit, have stood in its favour.

The Government is responding to the growth in tourism by strategic planning and sustainable tourism development - securing a firm basis for its tourism industry in the future.
COPYRIGHT 1995 IC Publications Ltd.
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Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Zimbabwe Survey
Author:Footitt, Claire
Publication:African Business
Date:Jul 1, 1995
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