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Back on the Map – Zimbabwe

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Back on the Map – Zimbabwe

Source: Travel Africa Magazine, Edition 48 Autumn 2009-11-03
Written by: Frank Glettenberg

While being a firm favourite for thousands of travellers until the 1990’s, Zimbabwe has all but dropped off the tourism map in recent years. With the formation of the coalition government and the American Dollarisation of the economy, I thought now was the right time to rate the country’s current tourism potential. How had the tourism infrastructure survived its dormancy? Were there still animals in the national parks? Would people be happy to see tourists? And most importantly, would I feel safe?

This July and August I travelled across Zimbabwe, 1600km of it by road, the remainder covered by two internal flights. I found the main roads tarred and in a better condition than some of those I’ve experienced in the UK. International car-hire companies are well represented and offer a solid network – the selection, however, is understandably limited. Roadblocks are frequent, which adds a bit of travelling time, but police are courteous and anything but intimidation. Once they realised that we were on holiday the officers all wished us a safe journey, asking us to spread the news at home that Zimbabwe is back.

Forgotten are the days of empty supermarkets and a lack of petrol and diesel. The dollarisation in April 2009 has ensured that the shops’ shelves are filled with everyday and luxury goods, and every fuel station is well stoked. A common expression of waiters during the trip was “… and I’m proud to say that everything is available on the main menu tonight!” Some South African chain stores have already opened their doors, and Visa credit cards are again bein accepted as payment. Besides US currency, the South African rand is also widely circulated – the Zim dollar has been suspended.

Hotels and lodges have miraculously survived the last couple of years. Some need a bit of investment and refurbishment, but all were kept up to international standards by dedicated staff and management. The hospitality industry offers a wide range of products; from 3-star hotels geared towards the tour market to intimate lodges in the wild for the upmarket independent traveller. International hotel chains are already investing in their properties again to bring them back to their former glary.

While the damages to Zimbabwe’s wildlife from poaching have been considerable, the game reserves are well managed and I was able to see an abundance of animals including the Big Five. And whoever thinks that these animals will be skittish, thinks wrong.

Overall Zimbabwe today presents itself as a stunningly diverse destination for escorted groups, escorted independent travellers and self-drive visitors. While the Zimbabweans are rebuilding their country and their tourism industry, the only ingredient now missing is the international traveller. We hope to change this soon with some exciting new offers.

Source: Travel Africa Magazine, Edition 48 Autumn 2009-11-03
Written by: Frank Glettenberg

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