Zimbabwe tourism rebounds
The year 2013 is the best opportunity yet for Zimbabwe to realise notable growth in the tourism sector, which is slowly recovering from a decade-long recession.
Since the beginning of political and economic turmoil in 2000, tourism in Zimbabwe has declined.
After rising during the 1990s, with 1.4 million tourists in 1999, industry figures showed a 75% decline in visitors to Zimbabwe by December 2000, with less than 20% of hotel rooms occupied.
This had a huge impact on the Zimbabwean economy, where thousands of jobs were lost due to companies closing down or simply being unable to pay staff wages.
Several airlines pulled out as the situation deteriorated only to return after the inclusive government was formed in 2009.
However, tourism has been on the rebound since the formation of the government of national unity.
A survey carried out by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority shows that the United States and the United Kingdom, two of Harare's biggest critics, led the pack in tourism arrivals into Zimbabwe for 2010.
However, the poor state of affairs in the aviation industry, where the country's sole airline failed to remain operational, resulted in more tourists resorting to using road transport, the survey said.
"During the period under review, tourists' arrivals by road rose by 32% while those by air fell by 43%."
International airlines have revived their interest in flying into Zimbabwe. Emirates, Namibian Airways, South African Airways, Ethiopian Airways, Tanzanian Airways and British Airways have also shown interest in operating in Zimbabwe.
With more traffic coming into Zimbabwe, tourism companies and hotels are posting notable profits. Some major hotels in resort areas are investing in upgrading their properties as well as constructing new structures intending to capitalise on the tourism boom.
"There was a perceptible momentum in changing fortunes in 2011, backed by hard statistics, and 2012 has seen that pace quicken with 'good news' stories coming in a steady stream," Africa Albida Tourism has said.
The good news referred to is that the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) endorsed Victoria Falls to co-host the World Tourism summit with Zambia in August.
Minister of Tourism Walter Mzembi said the global summit offered many opportunities for Zimbabwe's reputation and growth of tourism.
The Victoria Falls is Zimbabwe's flagship tourist attraction.
"Three thousand delegates and spouses from 158 countries are expected to be in the resort area of Victoria Falls for the summit.
"It is an opportune time for us to show the world that we are world-class. This is the biggest opportunity for us," Mzembi said.
Zimbabwe this week hosted the Africa Travel Association (ATA) congress in Victoria Falls, where Mzembi was elected president of the association for the next two years.
The UN, in preparation for the summit, named a tourism ambassador in President Robert Mugabe, who this week, with his Zambian counterpart Michael Sata and UNWTO secretary-general Taleb Rifai, penned the historic Trilateral Host Agreement for the 2013 summit.
Last week Zimbabwe signed a loan agreement with China for the refurbishment of the Victoria Falls Airport ahead of the summit.
This would be the second time Africa would host the general assembly of the UNWTO after Senegal did so in 2005.