After more than 30 years of Mugabe rule, Zimbabwe has a new president and the hopes of a more prosperous future, but the transition of power hasn’t been seamless.
Robert Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe from 1987, during which time the country battled to survive a struggling economy, widespread shortages of basic commodities, sporadic violence and hyperinflation. Once a much-loved leader, Mugabe eventually found himself under increasing pressure, not only from opposition parties, but also members of his own Zanu-PF party.
The situation came to a head in November, when the 94-year-old was told to step down. When he refused, the party began impeachment proceedings. It took two days and military intervention to remove Mugabe from power. Former Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa assumed the presidency and in August won the 2018 general election. That’s despite MDC leader and presidential rival Nelson Chamisa claiming vote fraud. Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court dismissed Chamisa’s challenge, saying he had failed to prove the allegations.
With Mnangagwa now officially in power, Rishabh Thapar, Associate Director at global hospitality consultancy HVS Africa, believes the new government has the difficult task of rebuilding the economy.
“The country, which is under severe external debt, needs to be able to gain access to credit. The government would need to create favourable policies, stamp out corruption and create/revive its own currency – this requires their undivided focus,” says Thapar.
The new government has prioritised the re-engagement of the international community in an effort to rebuild the country’s image and attract foreign direct investment under the ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’ theme.
“We are optimistic that this new dispensation will improve our image on the international front and create a springboard for the rebound of tourism that will naturally increase foreign arrivals into Zimbabwe,” says Tendai Madziwanyika, CEO of the Rainbow Tourism Group.
It was hoped that European, British and American sanctions would be lifted after Mugabe was removed, allowing Zimbabwe to participate fully in global economics, but this hasn’t yet happened. There are still concerns that the elections were not entirely free and fair, which is a major concern for Western powers. The European Union did, however, lift sanctions on diamond exports in 2013, and Zimbabwe has been trading in Antwerp, a large diamond centre in Belgium, for the last five years.
China, however, has no such qualms and has been a huge source of financial support. (See sidebar)
The economy of Zimbabwe is largely dependent on agriculture and mineral resources, with the mining industry the largest driver, accounting for almost half of the country’s exports. Manufacturing was once a key sector of the economy and the basic manufacturing infrastructure still exists in many cases. However, it needs investment, modernisation and reliable power to get up and running again.
However, Thapar feels that tourism can and should be a large contributor to the GDP. (See sidebar)
Zimbabwe has a long road ahead to full recovery, but many are optimistic.
“The prevailing spirit in Zimbabwe has changed dramatically over the past years,” says Duncan Bonnett, Director Strategy & Business Development at research and consulting specialists Africa House. “Zimbabwe’s public and private sectors are more positive than they have been in possibly 15 years, but with a sense of realism. Significant infrastructure and industrial revitalisation projects are planned, but there are still certain challenges in the way of realising them.”
The capital city Harare is the most populated city in Zimbabwe and the country’s primary business travel destination. Set in the natural garden of the Zimbabwe Highveld, 1,500 metres above sea level, Harare is a friendly city of flowering trees and gardens and a temperate climate. Don’t miss the Harare gardens, Mbare market and museum on your visit.
Bulawayo is the second largest city located south-west of Harare. The Zimbabwe International Trade Fair is located here and is the largest intra-regional trade fair south of the Sahara, providing the largest, most convenient trade hub in the region.
Zimbabwe’s most popular tourist and MICE destination is Victoria Falls, home to the greatest curtain of falling water in the world. (See sidebar)
The Great Zimbabwe Ruins in Masvingo and the Khami Ruins in Bulawayo are among the world’s most well-preserved ancient cities. In addition, the Hwange Game Reserve is the country’s largest wildlife sanctuary and home to one of the largest elephant populations in Africa. Lake Kariba is also a popular destination for game viewing and fishing.
Harare’s airport is the largest in the country, situated 10 kilometres from the centre of town. There are shops and small restaurants in the airport. Most of the airlines, including Emirates, SAA, BA (operated by Comair), Kenya Airways, Air Zimbabwe and Ethiopian Airlines do offer airside lounge facilities to their first and business class passengers. The airport security and customs x-ray systems are extremely thorough, though, so remove your belt, shoes, watch and everything from your pockets. Taxis, airport shuttles and transfers by car are the most popular forms of transport to and from the city.
The check-in experience can be long, especially in economy, but immigration tends to be fast. The arrivals hall appears disorganised, but it flows. Having your forms completed, knowing your visa requirements, and having exact change for your visa will expedite the process.
Fastjet began operations into Zimbabwe in 2014 from Dar es Salaam. The airline set up a Zimbabwean arm in 2015 and currently flies internally between Harare and Vic Falls as well as Harare and Bulawayo.
Other airlines that land in Harare include Air Botswana from Gaborone, Air Namibia (which also flies to Vic Falls) from Windhoek, Airlink from Johannesburg, and LAM from Mozambique.
As the country’s national carrier, Air Zimbabwe connects Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls. BA (operated by Comair) offers flights to Vic Falls from South Africa, while SAA reaches Bulawayo and Vic Falls in addition to Harare.
In July, Airlink enhanced its six weekly flights between Cape Town and Vic Falls by switching to an 83-seater AvroRJ regional jet aircraft, which has business class seats.
The new Victoria Falls International Airport opened in 2016, and has been well received. SAA was the first airline to land a wide-bodied aircraft there when its Airbus A330-200 touched down from Johannesburg in March last year. In the same month, Ethiopian Airlines launched four weekly flights from Addis Ababa utilising a Boeing 737, whilst in May, Kenya Airways launched three direct weekly flights from Nairobi.
“These three airlines alone add 80,000 new seats per annum into Victoria Falls International Airport and the region, offering a huge opportunity for growth, as well as connecting new destinations with the incredible Victoria Falls hub and KAZA tourism region,” says Ross Kennedy, Chief Executive at Africa Albida Tourism.
Cresta Hotels has the most comprehensive Harare offering of all the hotel groups, with three establishments in the city. The centrally-located Cresta Jameson has a 24-hour front desk, business centre, conference facilities, wi-fi connectivity, and a health and beauty spa, whilst Cresta Lodge Harare, on the outskirts of the city centre, has a similar mid-market, yet solid offering, in a different setting. The group also operates the Cresta Oasis, which is a hotel that also offers serviced apartments for long-term stays. Cresta also has the Cresta Churchill in Bulawayo – a 50-room property that apparently “oozes Tudor charm” – and Cresta Sprayview in Vic Falls.
Rainbow Tourism Group, the second largest hotel group in Zimbabwe by number of rooms and market capitalisation, is represented in Harare by two hotels. The Rainbow Towers Hotel & Conference Centre, one of the few tall buildings piercing the city skyline, was refurbished in 2013 and has 304 rooms, wi-fi and 24-hour room service. Dining is provided by four eateries – the Harvest Garden (buffet restaurant); the Kombahari Restaurant (Afro-Asian fusion); Teppan Yaki (Far East cuisine); and La Patiserrie, the hotel’s lobby coffee shop.
Rainbow’s second Harare property, the New Ambassador Hotel, is located in the CBD, and is walking distance from the main financial, commercial and government institutions, as well as a host of shops, cinemas, restaurants, the National Museum and Art Gallery. It offers 72 rooms, a business centre, wi-fi connectivity and three dining options. RTG also has the Bulawayo Rainbow Hotel – its only property in that city – and two hotels in Vic Falls, in the form of the A’Zambezi River Lodge and the Victoria Falls Rainbow Hotel. (see sidebar)
The four-star Monomotapa Hotel, now under the management of Legacy Hotels & Resorts, overlooks Harare. It offers a mix of twin rooms, king leisure rooms and suites, and enjoys panoramic views of Harare, right on the doorstep of the city’s Central Park and Gardens. Zimbabwe’s National Gallery is a five-minute walk away and the renowned Botanical Gardens a short 10-minute drive. There is also a variety of restaurants to choose from.
Legacy has earmarked funds for the upgrading of the ground floor and public areas to the estimated tune of $22 million.
There are also big plans for the area surrounding this hotel, with a vision to turn it into something akin to Johannesburg’s Sandton City, with offices, hotels, shops and recreation facilities. The Harare Gardens are in front of the hotel, and around the corner sits the National Art Gallery. The new owners have concluded a deal with the Harare City Council and will purchase 5.4 hectares of the park land, which will become part of the hotel.
Following a deal concluded with African Sun in 2015, Legacy now manages four other Zimbabwe hotels – Elephant Hills and The Kingdom at Victoria Falls, Hwange Safari Lodge and the Troutbeck Resort. There are plans to eventually upgrade and refurbish all of these properties.
Although no management agreements have been signed yet, Legacy is set to take over the management of two more hotels in the near future – Caribbea Bay in Kariba and the Great Zimbabwe Hotel in Masvingo – which will increase its Zimbabwe portfolio to seven.
Radisson Blu entered Zimbabwe when it began construction of the Radisson Blu Hotel Harare in March 2017. Doors are expected to open next year. The new five-star hotel, located alongside the Chapman Golf Club, will feature 245 hotel rooms and suites and provide 40 long-stay residences, an all-day restaurant, a speciality restaurant and cocktail lounge, a pool bar and grill, and a large terrace, all with views across the golf course. There will also be conference and meeting facilities, a spa, a gym, two swimming pools and a kids’ club.
Looking at the other main hotels in Harare, the Meikles Hotel is a five-star property set in a prime location in the centre of the city. Local tourist attractions such as Eastgate Centre, African Unity Square and the National Art Gallery are not far from the hotel. Also nearby are the Harare Gardens, Queen Victoria Museum and National Museum. Dining facilities at Meikles include La Fontaine, a good restaurant worth trying. The hotel also offers transportation to/from the airport for an additional fee.
The Bronte Hotel is renowned for its beautiful gardens and collection of Shona sculptures. Centrally located in the Avenues, within walking distance of downtown Harare, the Bronte offers well-appointed rooms and executive suites in a garden setting. Suited to both the business and leisure traveller, the amenities include complimentary wi-fi, two swimming pools, a fitness centre, complimentary breakfast buffet, secure on-site parking and fine dining at Emmanuel’s Restaurant.
On Samora Machel Avenue, the Holiday Inn Harare is just 200 metres from the CBD and 12 kilometres from Harare International Airport. Mezzanine-floor meeting rooms can accommodate up to 250 guests. Dining is provided by the Silver Spur Steak Ranch restaurant, 24- hour room service, and the hotel restaurant.
IHG also has the new Holiday Inn in Mutare, which the group opened in July. The franchised property is owned by African Sun and offers 96 rooms, an outdoor pool, and a meeting room for up to 250 people.
The de facto official currency is the US dollar and it is very much a cash economy. The South African rand and British pound are also accepted, but you do not get a favourable exchange rate. Major international credit cards (Visa and MasterCard) are now accepted in most of the larger hotels, restaurants and shops, but many smaller establishments still do not have credit card facilities. Diners Club and American Express are often not accepted.
There is currently a cash flow problem in the country and ATMs often restrict withdrawal amounts. Mobile money transactions are popular and the number of point of sale machines in the country increased by 20% to approximately 70,000 in 2017. This is good news for travellers as it reduces the need to arrange foreign currency, although, it is still advisable to take a small number of low denomination bills for certain basic transactions.
Travellers from the following African countries do not require visas to enter Zimbabwe: Botswana, DRC, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia.
African countries whose nationals are granted visas at the port of entry on payment of the requisite visa fees ($30 – single entry): Egypt and Seychelles.
All other African passport holders need to apply in advance.
Malaria is prevalent in large parts of the country, so do take the necessary precautions.
Private medical centres offer excellent healthcare, especially in Harare, where quality treatment is available 24/7. There are also several ambulance companies who can undertake medical evacuation where necessary.
There are also a number of emergency clinics offering good healthcare after hours, if you prefer avoiding a hospital.
Drinking tap water is not advisable, although Victoria Falls does have its own water purification plant.
Chinese involvement with Zimbabwe goes back a long way to the Rhodesian Bush War, when China provided Robert Mugabe’s fighters with weapons and training in 1979. Formal diplomatic relations followed a year later.
More recently, in the wake of sanctions from the West, China has poured billions of dollars into Zimbabwe in the form of loans and investment, and President Mnangagwa is inviting even more investment from the East.
The money can be seen in the expansion of Victoria Falls Airport ($150 million) and the National Defence College ($100 million). Deals have reportedly been signed for a 400 megawatts coal methane-fired power plant in Matabeleland North Province ($1 billion) and a 650-seat parliament building in Harare.
In 2016, Zimbabwe exported tobacco, cotton and minerals to China, while importing electronics, clothing and other finished products, all of which added up to a little over $1.1 billion.
IMPORTANCE OF TOURISM
Tourism has been long identified as one of the areas of opportunity for Zimbabwe. Tourism is a foreign currency earner which currently contributes 10% to the GDP. According to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, in 2017 tourism foreign exchange receipts totalled $151 million, a contribution of 2,7% to the country’s total foreign receipts.
“Tourism policies and infrastructure can create massive opportunities for an economy, not only through job creation and direct/indirect income from tourism activities, but also creating opportunity for interaction and business avenues,” says Rishabh Thapar, Associate Director at global hospitality consultancy HVS Africa. “According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, while the direct contribution of travel and tourism to Zimbabwe’s GDP was 3.5%, the total contribution of travel and tourism to GDP – including wider effects from investment, the supply chain and induced income impacts – was over 8% in 2016 and 2017.”
It would appear that most travel itineraries in Southern Africa do not explore Zimbabwe’s tourist attractions beyond the famed Victoria Falls.
“This presents an opportunity. Zimbabwe has abundant natural attractions such as Nyanga National Park, Matopos National Park, Hwange National Park, Lake Kariba, the Great Zimbabwean Ruins and Chinhoyi Caves, which all need to be promoted and established into itineraries and tourism circuits,” says Thapar.
He recommends that a masterplan for all these destinations is developed to enhance the tourist’s experience and ultimately increase the length of stay in the country.
While the plan should focus on airlines, connectivity, hotels and tourism infrastructure and activities, Thapar concludes that the government would also need to invest into building a long-term tourism policy for preservation and conservation, while providing incentives for private investors.
“We anticipate that Zimbabwe is on the verge of a major economic turnaround that will result in an increased demand for rooms and MICE business,” says Tendai Madziwanyika, CEO of the Rainbow Tourism Group. “We believe that Zimbabwe is a safe, stable and secure country and we see significant interest in the country following the staging of the recent harmonised elections. This creates business and leisure growth opportunities for international hospitality brands and we expect to see new international entrants into the market.
RTG COMPLETES REFURB OF VIC FALLS HOTEL
The décor and feel of the new Victoria Falls Rainbow Hotel rooms is reflective of the new Afrocentric positioning, with “warm yet vibrant earth tones and a fiery orange that brings the brightness and warmth of the sun indoors.”
In addition to new floor and wall tiles, and mosquito nets, all the rooms now have international sockets which include a USB port, and adjustable headboard lighting. The bathrooms now sport entirely new toilet and hand basin systems, shower curtains have been replaced by glass doors, and large rain shower heads have been installed.
Nestled in an amphitheatre of virgin rainforest, the Victoria Falls Rainbow Hotel is within walking distance of the town centre and only two kilometres from the Falls. Great views are on offer at “The Panorama” deck, a unique platform from which to view the Falls – otherwise known as “Mosi oa Tunya” or “The Smoke that Thunders”.