When Suzanne and I travel the world and tell people that Zimbabwe’s tourism is on the rise and that it’s at the beginning of a boom, almost everyone we speak to is shocked and surprised at first. The fact is that most people out there think that Zimbabwe is somehow in reverse as a destination. This is certainly not the case when it comes to tourism and its only when we show people pictures and video clips of the country, often with us in them that they start to believe. By Luke Brown, Vayeni Director.
Think Zimbabwe and draw up a 7 point list of things that come to mind! You may come up with a whole lot of things and more than likely there wont be the word holiday on either your own or most others’ lists. So why then should you be convinced otherwise? Here are 7 good ‘myth busting’ reasons why you should be putting ‘holiday’ right at the very top of the list when you think of Zimbabwe.
1. Peaceful, intelligent people with a ‘special smile’ philosophy that is infectious
How wrongly portrayed across the world are we as an unsafe destination? Zimbabweans on the whole are peace loving people with the highest literacy rate in Africa that simply adds to their already innate intelligence. It is part of a Zimbabwean’s nature to endure good times and tough times with the same ‘special smile’ approach to all they do. This is ‘special smile’ philosophy is embodied in daily lives that are more often spent appreciating what one has and focusing on the good things, as opposed to whining and whinging about any negative aspects of life here in Zim. That ‘special smile’ ability I’m saying Zimbabweans possess is infectious when people visit the country. So much so that I’ll bet you that, almost invariably, anyone who visits Zimbabwe for the first time will arrive with caution, but leave with a piece of that philosophy in their hearts. We see it time and again with our international guests that come here for the first time with trepidation and leave as totally different people that have a new outlook on life.
2. Internationally accessible and domestically flyable
We don’t have a Heathrow/JFK or an Easy Jet, yet, but the quality of our airports has been maintained and improved to cater for rising numbers. Harare International Airport is a modern, clean and efficient point of entry. Bulawayo’s new Joshua Nkomo international terminal has just been opened. Victoria Falls International Airport will have a new terminal and an extended runway by 2015. Emirates have increased their Harare flights to seven days a week and put on a bigger aircraft to service the route. I’ve just flown on Emirates into and out of Harare twice in the last month and it was a joy. KLM, Kenyan, Ethiopian, SAA, BA Comair all fly in frequently, some twice a day. Our national airline, Air Zimbabwe, not without its challenges, is making every effort to meet world class standards with its new local and regional services. Modern embraer aircrafts service the Harare-Bulawayo and Harare-Vic Falls legs daily. Privately owned charter companies continue to fill the gaps and also service most of the popular routes with affordable ‘seat-in-plane’ rates. You can even charter a really fancy new Helicopter called a Eurocopter to fly around the country in.
3. Navigable on the ground & communication/technology friendly
Once you are here you’ll be able to move around with relative ease. The road from Mutare through Harare to Bulawayo and on to Plumtree has nearly been completely resurfaced to first world standards. It’s as good as any main road in South Africa. Other main roads are following suit, but, even as they are currently, remain completely navigable wide tarred roads suitable to all types of vehicle including two wheel drive hatchbacks. Rental car companies are competing for business where they haven’t done so before. Fuel stations are plentiful, most shops and venues accept credit cards and have shelves full of internationally recognized and well priced items. New maps are readily available, google maps and navigation devices all work here. Cellphone signal is accessible in almost every corner of the country along with data capability with 4G connections now possible in Harare and Victoria Falls. Police road blocks are frequent, but it is a very rare occasion if you are not waved on through and if you are stopped at all you will most likely encounter that ‘special smile’ we spoke about earlier. If you are not into driving yourself around then there are a wide choice of bus services available, some of which have an excellent on board service including teas, coffees and entertainment.
4. Incredibly diverse offerings from varied landscapes to shopping to culture
Aside from not having an ocean on one of its boundaries or a mountain to ski on there is not much else that Zimbabwe can’t offer. Victoria Falls of course tops the list of things to see, but the idea that it ends with that is completely false. Hwange, Gonarezhou and Mana Pools are big game areas offering incredible safari opportunities where one can get regular up close encounters with animals like lion, elephant, wild dog and leopard. Lake Kariba is a slightly softer safari destination, but what you might lose in game sightings you gain in vistas, fishing paradises, birding hot spots and ultra-relaxation, whether in a lodge on the lake shore or on one of the many houseboats available. Great Zimbabwe and the Matobo Hills are cultural world heritage sites for good reason. Great Zimbabwe contains the largest ancient city ruins south of the pyramids in Africa. Matobo Hills is a mystical and natural rock kingdom that has been the meeting point of cultures for centuries and remains a spiritual, environmental and geological area of distinct significance. Visit Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands and you won’t believe the change in scenery. Alpine type landscapes exist in parts, whilst other areas are dominated by thick forests with tall canopies. There are many hiking trails, lakes to trout fish in and there are even some really challenging golf courses to play on, the finest of these being Leopard Rock in the Vumba, although my personal favourite is still Troutbeck in Nyanga. Talking of golf courses: Royal Harare, Chapman Harare, Elephant Hills Vic Falls and the course at Triangle in the loweveld are all MUST plays. Back to the highlands – above all, the far reaching views among the fresh water streams, that stretch from the mountains across the lower lands are the most rewarding element. Zimbabwe’s two main cities, Harare and Bulawayo offer up many activities too, ranging from great places to eat out, shopping malls to sample, traditional markets to explore, as well as specialist craft and curios centres, all of which are tasteful and un-contrived.
5. Great accommodation, great products and on top of this these are both conservation and community focused
To compliment the vast array of diverse and accessible landscapes are a multitude of world class venues from Hotels and resorts to boutique lodges and B&Bs. The amount of investment going on in the accommodation sector is amazing. There are at least seven new lodges in Hwange. Major hotels in Harare are being planned and existing ones are being refurbished, some to the tune of millions of dollars. In Victoria Falls, Gonarezhou, Matobo Hills, Mana Pools and Kariba it’s the same story. And its not only accommodation that is getting attention. There are new sunset cruise boats in Victoria Falls designed specifically with the modern traveller in mind, as well as new road networks in Gonarezhou. Zimbabweans are mindful about the environment and this is why you will find a sustainable and green ethos being widely adopted. One of our biggest resources is a our wildlife and how this relates to community. That is why initiatives like Friends of Hwange, the Tashinga Initiative, the Malilangwe Trust and many many more are being driven on the ground by locals and get so much support regionally and internationally. Clive Stockil recently won the inaugural “Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa,” presented to him in London by Prince William. He competed with the best in Africa to top the list. What does that tell you about how seriously Zimbabweans are about conservation,community and sustainability?
Zimbabwe is certainly not the world’s cheapest country to visit on holiday, but it’s by far not the most expensive either. In fact, since we adopted the Unites States Dollar, it probably averages out somewhere in the middle. There is space for all budgets here. In Harare, for example, when you go out for a cappuccino you’ll probably pay USD$2.- and you’ll get a slice of cheesecake with that for an extra $4.- You’ll pay $2-3.- for a 330ml beer of which there is a large variety of decent local and international lagers to choose from. On average a main course at a restaurant will cost about $20.- And the places you’ll find to wine and dine in are plentiful and tastefully appointed, especially in Harare and Victoria Falls, although Bulawayo has some great spots too. The average B&B rate for a night’s stay in a really good hotel or boutique guest house ranges from $150.- to $200.- If you are staying in a lodge the packages are typically all inclusive of meals, local drinks and two activities per day and this will often cost you somewhere between $300.- and $400.- per person per night sharing for an upmarket experience. Compare that with some of our neighboring countries.
7. Superb service
This goes hand in hand with the first point above. Zimbabweans by nature are fantastic hosts. You’ll almost invariably find that nothing is too much trouble for them. Whether you are arriving at Harare International, catching a bus, bargaining at a craft market or climbing aboard a helicopter to fly above the falls that special smile is likely to greet you!
Check out our social media links below to follow the continuously unfolding story about Zimbabwe’s flowering tourism and don’t forget to put ‘holiday’ at the top of your list when you think Zimbabwe.
Twitter: @lukebrownzim, @vayenitravel
Image: Luke & Suzanne in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe