Treading water

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.

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Robert Mugabe has been Zimbabwe’s only ruler since 1987 and has dominated the country’s political landscape since independence. Under his rule, the country 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 set the economy right since his re-election in 2013 and now faces increasing pressure as sections of his own Zanu-PF party appear to be pressing for a change.

The 2018 general election will be the second under the new constitution, which allows a president to serve for a maximum of two five-year terms. Mugabe has, under this new rule, only served one term, so is eligible to run, although it’s unclear whether he will pass the baton of leadership to a party member or stand himself. Opposition parties are looking to form a coalition government to challenge the reigning leadership, a move which is gaining support from Zimbabweans.

All of which makes for a fairly unstable environment, although not everyone sees this as a bad thing.

“Politics play a role in business travel everywhere, and what we find is that when a country is facing challenges politically, business travel can actually increase, with NGO, media, and entrepreneurial opportunists growing,” says Glenn Stutchbury, CEO of Cresta Hotels.

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 (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. Taxis, airport shuttles and transfers by car are the most popular forms of transport to and from the city.

“Harare International is clean and functional,” says Mark Havercroft, Business Development & Hospitality Operations Director for Legacy Hotels & Resorts. “The relevant authorities are efficient and the services on offer are more than adequate for all but the most discerning traveller. There are at least three business lounges and countless coffee shops and bars available in departures.”

“The check-in experience can be long, especially in economy, but immigration tends to be fast,” says Stutchbury. “The x-ray machines are set very sensitive at Harare International, so remove your belt, shoes, watch and everything from your pockets and you won’t then be sent back. On your way in, don’t stress that all luggage gets scanned as you go to the Green Route, as this is normal for Harare and moves quickly. 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.”

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.

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.

July saw Airlink add six weekly flights between Cape Town and Vic Falls, and the response has been good.

“The route is proving extremely popular and we are already looking at increasing capacity,” says Rodger Foster, CEO of Airlink.

The new Victoria Falls International Airport opened last year, and has been well received.

HARARE HOTELS

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 (see sidebar) in Bulawayo – a 50-room property that apparently “oozes Tudor charm” – and Cresta Sprayview in Vic Falls.

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 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.

Following a deal concluded with African Sun in 2015, Legacy now 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

There is currently a cash flow problem in the country and ATMs often restrict withdrawal amounts.

“Currently, the impact of the cash crisis far outweighs the political situation,” says Stutchbury. “The key shortage is cash, and access to cash through ATMs is non-existent. This has an impact on the traveller, as their usual source of local currency is unavailable. Business travellers are advised to bring US dollars with them in smaller denominations for certain basic transactions, although swipe machines are available almost everywhere and payment by Visa and Mastercard is easy. American Express and Diners should be avoided. Mobile money transactions are very common.”

VISAS

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.

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.

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

zimbabwetourism.net

gotovictoriafalls.co.za

COMMENT

GLENN STUTCHBURY – CEO: CRESTA HOTELS

There is no Uber in Zimbabwe and the prices of taxis can be cheeky. There are taxi ranks at most hotels and it’s best to get the rate before you drive. For businessmen doing many different appointments, sign up a taxi driver, negotiate a flat day rate and have him as your chauffeur for the day. There is also a service called G-Taxi which is Zimbabwe’s Uber – download the app, but remember to request a car way in advance and set a time, as cars are not as frequent as in Johannesburg, for example. Wi-fi hotspots are in shopping centres and airports, but it isn’t fast. Be careful not to incur large roaming costs. Restaurants vary according to the experience you are looking for and local knowledge is key, so ask your host and people you meet, as they will all have their favourites. 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!

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.

VICTORIA FALLS

Victoria Falls is Zimbabwe’s shining light, thanks to its stunning natural beauty and obvious appeal as a leisure travel and MICE destination.

It already has a number of big events – including this year’s EAI International Conference for Research, Innovation and Development for Africa and the African Finance Association Conference – on its CV, but the region’s new airport has just added another dimension to the offering, which also has a number of quality hotel brands represented, in the form of the likes of Legacy Hotels & Resorts, Cresta Hotels, African Sun and Africa Albida Tourism.

Cresta Hotels CEO Glenn Stutchbury provides an interesting snapshot into just how Vic Falls’ growth compares with that of elsewhere in Zimbabwe.

“The first half of 2017 has been a mixed bag with Harare showing an industry decline of 2%, Bulawayo an increase of 5% and Victoria Falls a massive growth of 17%,” he says. “The impact of the new airport, additional flights and larger aircraft has resulted in fantastic growth and the remainder of the year is looking very strong.”

In March, SAA became the first airline to land a wide-bodied aircraft in Victoria Falls when its Airbus A330-200 touched down from Johannesburg. Also in March, 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.

“The Victoria Falls airport is world class and, outside of South Africa, as good as any on the continent,” says Mark Havercroft, Business Development & Hospitality Operations Director for Legacy Hotels & Resorts, “although it cannot be denied that immigration procedures are time consuming for those visitors requiring visa entry.”

CRESTA CHURCHILL REFURBISHMENT

In May, Cresta Churchill in Bulawayo completed the first phase of renovations which began earlier this year. This and further phases aim to modernise the accommodation offering.

Both standard rooms and suites now have completely refitted bathrooms, electronic keys have been introduced, flat-screen TVs and international plug points and USB chargers installed, and there has been the placement of new bedroom floors and a touch of repainting.

“Cresta Churchill is the flagship hotel for Zimbabwe’s second city and this refurbishment will create an accommodation offering second to none, suitable for business and leisure travellers who make this their hotel of choice,” says Glenn Stutchbury, CEO of Cresta Hotels. “What we have sought is ease and convenience, as well as a classy, clean look that suits all travelling types, both local and international.”