Still fighting

Zimbabwe has endured sanctions, an unstable currency, and continued speculation about its future. However, this land-locked Southern African country has much untapped potential that many believe could be harnessed, should Zimbabwe see a political regime change in the near future. Robert Mugabe has been Zimbabwe’s only ruler since 1987 and has dominated the country’s political landscape since independence. Under his rule, Zimbabwe has battled to survive a struggling economy, widespread shortages of basic commodities, sporadic violence and hyperinflation. The economy of Zimbabwe is mostly dependent on agriculture and mineral resources, with the mining industry the largest driver, accounting for almost half of the country’s exports. Mass unemployment, though, is still rife, and policy inconsistency, as well as a lack of investment security, remain huge obstacles to promoting investment in Zimbabwe. Saying this, tourism, led by the stunning Victoria Falls area, is seeing a revival. The big question is, who will succeed Mugabe, who is already in his 90s? The veteran leader has struggled to right the economy since his re-election in 2013 and now faces increasing pressure as fed-up Zimbabweans stage protests, while sections of his own Zanu PF party also appear to be pressing for his ouster. CITIES 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. 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. AIRPORTS 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, Kenya Airways, Air Zimbabwe and Ethiopian do offer airside lounge facilities to their first and business class passengers. The airport security and customs x-ray systems are extremely thorough, though. Taxis, airport shuttles and transfers by car are the most popular forms of transport to and from the city. “The airport has unfortunately been affected by the economic downturn and there are cracks appearing in the equipment such as the turnstiles for luggage, working check-in desks, and adequate staffing on busy flight days,” says Glenn Stutchbury, CEO of Cresta Hotels. “The refreshment prices in the departures hall are insane – $4 for a cappuccino!” Here is a different view, though. “The Harare airport is absolutely excellent – the international terminal is one of the best airports we operate from,” says Richard Bodin, fastjet’s Chief Operating Officer. “It is a large, uncluttered airport that is both operationally efficient and offers the passenger a smooth process to follow. The domestic terminal is less developed, but due to a low traffic profile is still easy to operate through.” 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 regionally to South Africa and Tanzania. “Zimbabwe has a highly educated population, with a strong propensity to travel, excellent trade activity with its neighbours, a thriving inbound tourist sector, and a flag carrier charging high fares. These were all factors considered to start fastjet Zimbabwe,” says Bodin. Mark Havercroft, Business Development & Hospitality Operations Director for Legacy Hotels & Resorts, agrees with Bodin’s assessment of the Harare airport, saying that the development of online check-in has greatly improved the process. Airside, there has been development and departing passengers can enjoy their time at a coffee shop, make duty-free purchases, or relax in the business class lounge. Other airlines that land in Harare include Air Botswana from Gaborone, Air Namibia from Windhoek, Airlink from Johannesburg, fastjet, Kenya Airways, South African low-cost carrier Kulula, and LAM from Mozambique. As the country’s national carrier, Air Zimbabwe connects Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls. Kulula offers flights to Vic Falls from South Africa, while SAA reaches Bulawayo and Vic Falls in addition to Harare. The new Victoria Falls International Airport opened this year, and it has received its share of positive reviews. “It’s had a few teething problems, but it’s running smoothly,” says Havercroft. Air bridges connect aircraft to the terminal building, which is large and modern. “Nothing of the scale of O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg,” says Havercroft, but it’s a huge step up from the old airport.” BA, SAA, and Air Zimbabwe all have check-in desks there. Security is a bit of a process, but a fairly painless one. “My average time in the airport, from disembarking to the car park, is about half an hour, although I have done it in 10 minutes” says Havercroft. “Tourists who have to fill out forms and apply for visas shouldn’t spend more than one hour getting to their land transport.” HARARE HOTELS The Meikles Hotel is a five-star property set in a prime location in the centre of Harare. 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. “I tend to stay in the Meikles Hotel as it is central and comfortable. However, the other hotels and lodges I’ve stayed in lately have all been great,” says Bodin. 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. The four-star Monomotapa Hotel, now under the management of Legacy Hotels & Resorts, overlooks the city. 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 done a deal with the Harare City Council and will purchase 5.4 hectares of the park land, which will become part of the hotel. “We’re going to create a massive open-air restaurant in one corner, and then we’re going to build an 800-seater convention centre that links the art gallery to the hotel,” says Havercroft. In a deal announced in 2015, the Legacy Group has taken over management of four other Zimbabwe hotels – Elephant Hills and The Kingdom in Vic Falls, Hwange Safari Lodge and the Tribeca Resort – from African Sun. There are plans to upgrade and refurbish all of these properties in the near future. Elephant Hills, with its 276 rooms and conference facilities for 1,200, will undergo a soft refurb, with the bathrooms, air conditioning units and golf course receiving attention. The now-empty casino at The Kingdom will be converted into an 800-seater auditorium with breakaway rooms in the next nine months. In Hwange, a new executive chef has overhauled the menus and upgraded the kitchen facilities. There are also plans to build conference facilities for 100 people. In 2017, Legacy will take over the management of two more hotels – Caribbea Bay in Kariba and the Great Zimbabwe Hotel in Masvingo – which will increase its Zimbabwe portfolio to seven. 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. 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. Cresta has recently invested in its properties, with a number of upgrades. “We completed our new Chatters Restaurant at Cresta Lodge in May, and have started on the bathrooms at Cresta Jameson,” says Stutchbury.  “New bathrooms at Cresta Churchill are planned for the fourth quarter.” Rainbow Tourism Group is represented in Harare by two hotels. The Rainbow Towers Hotel and Conference Centre 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. CARD ACCEPTANCE 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. The majority of ATM cash machines are now dispensing cash with a maximum daily withdrawal of $500. There is currently a cash flow problem in the country and ATMs often restrict withdrawal amounts, sometimes as low as $100 per day. “The hospitality sector is obviously affected by this,” says Stutchbury. “Visitors need to be able to draw cash and this is not always available. However, the industry has reacted and there has been a huge increase in point of sale terminal facilities.” VISAS African countries whose nationals do not require visas: 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. HEALTH 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 – visitors are advised to have adequate medical aid cover. 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. CONTACTS SIDEBAR – FACT FILE Time zone: GMT+2 Plugs: Three-prong square Dialling code: +263 Currency: US dollar Language: English, Shona, Sindebele COMMENT Mark Havercroft Business Development & Hospitality Operations Director: Legacy Hotels & Resorts The dollarization of the country definitely improved things. However, earning a stable currency made life really expensive, and a long history of hyperinflation and daily fluctuation in prices have blinded sellers to the true value of the US dollar. So they’ll casually say there’s a 20% increase. That’s massive. You need to understand this to do business in Zimbabwe. Often you can reduce the price of items by half. The IT industry in Zimbabwe is also on the rise. Three million people possess smartphones and they’ve become very tech savvy. The latest development is a company called Get Cash, which is basically a virtual wallet. You can pay for goods from your smartphone without the need of physical cash. Social media is also widely used. It’s giving more and more people a voice to communicate with the rest of the world. It’s definitely a growing industry in Zimbabwe. COMMENT Glenn Stutchbury – CEO: Cresta Hotels Harare International doesn’t have that constant buzz, but that obviously relates to the number of flights. Unfortunately, check-in can be slow as the number of manned desks is often an issue. Online check-in solves this for me, because I can use the bag drop queue. The x-ray machines are set to ‘super sensitive’, so be prepared to remove absolutely everything but your threads! As lounges go, I prefer the SAA lounge – it has decent wi-fi and okay coffee, but the catering leaves a lot to be desired. This applies to all the lounges actually. In departures, free wi-fi is available – you just need to persevere! Coffee is available, but prepare yourself for UK-level pricing. The arrivals hall appears disorganised, but it flows – just make sure you have your forms filled out before, know your visa requirements, and have exact change for your visa. Depending on which flight you arrive on, you’ll find customs varies – scanning on your way out often happens. Harare domestic is basic and simple, but again you get totally fleeced on food and coffee, and they hardly ever have change. In Bulawayo, the newish Joshua Nkomo International airport is very shiny. Right now it’s totally over spec, but if frequency into Bulawayo increases, they are ready. There is no Uber in Zimbabwe and the prices of taxis can be cheeky, so agree in advance and if you’re not happy go to the next one. Better still, arrange something with your hotel. It’s a numbers game, so if you are travelling with people a taxi is cheaper than the per head charge of the transfer companies. In terms of wi-fi, coffee shops and hotels generally have, but speed is totally variable and like everything in Zimbabwe is totally overpriced, particularly if you are travelling from Europe or the US. Things to check before you travel to Zimbabwe: transfer to and from hotel; wi-fi and charges at hotel; back-up generator at hotel – there are serious power cuts and we all know what that can do to your productivity and personality! Best of all, Zimbabwe has smiling people who are friendly and highly educated, so expect good answers to your questions and don’t be afraid to ask.
Previous articleUnder Pressure
Next article4 Hours in… Bloemfontein