Zimbabwe

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Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa, surrounded by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the south-west, Zambia to the north-west, and Mozambique to the east and north.

Fact File
Population:
13 million
Time zone: GMT+2
Plugs: Three prong square
Dialling code: +263
Currency: US dollar, SA rand, euro, pound
Language: English, Shona, Sindebele

Background
Zimbabwe is still attempting to drag itself out of the economic doldrums it has experienced over the past decade or so. Some would argue that this process took a step backwards when Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party strolled to victory in the July 2013 elections.    

Those elections were called a “huge farce” by MDC opponent Morgan Tsvangirai, who said the country was “in mourning” over the results. He claimed that over a million voters were turned away from polling stations, and said the Movement for Democratic Change would no longer work with Mugabe nor participate in government institutions.

However, Zimbabwe has shown signs of improvement and stability over the past few years, even though few would argue that it isn’t out of the woods just yet. Most services are back to a semblance of normalcy with fuel, food and goods readily available. Power and water remain sporadic, and since the dollarisation of the economy, it has become expensive.

Major foreign currency earners for Zimbabwe are minerals, gold, tobacco, agriculture and tourism, although the latter two industries have struggled in recent times, off the back of the controversial land distribution of 2000, the fallout from that and the international community’s unhappiness with the Mugabe government’s policies.

Interestingly, following the formation of the Unity Government with Tsvangirai’s MDC in 2009, the Zimbabwe economy rebounded and grew by 5% that year and in 2011.

What the future holds for Zimbabwe, though, only time will tell.

Business Travel Activity
Two of the most prominent hotels in Harare underwent renovation in 2013.

The landmark Meikles hotel, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World group, received an $8,5 million refurbishment. New banqueting furniture and equipment was acquired, and there were various upgrades of product and service, such as the introduction of new beds and flat-screen TVs for all rooms and suites. There were also changes in food and beverage operations, where the company introduced new menus, new wine lists and new styles of cuisine and presentation.

The refurbishment also involved the complete renovation of all suites and bedrooms, including major changes to the bathrooms. Function rooms were also redesigned, while the hotel’s flagship restaurant, La Fontaine Grill Room, was extensively refurbished and its kitchen completely transformed.

Also touching up its offering was the Rainbow Towers & Conference Centre. Previously the Sheraton Harare and owned and managed by the Rainbow Tourism Group since 2006, the hotel was still undergoing refurbishment at the time of going to press, as part of a $7,5 million project, which the group hopes will restore the property to its former glory. 

On the airline front, Emirates added more than 1,600 seats a week to its Lusaka and Harare routes, by introducing a Boeing 777-300ER on its daily flight from Dubai. There was also some news out of Air Zimbabwe, with the airline announcing that it was planning to revive flights between Victoria Falls and Johannesburg, and reintroduce daily flights between Harare and Johannesburg. There was also talk of a direct Harare–Durban flight, as well as the possible introduction of flights to London. Air Zimbabwe also expressed interest in the Harare-Lusaka and Harare-Lilongwe routes.

Air Namibia also expanded its presence in Zimbabwe and now operates four flights a week between Harare and Lusaka. SA Express will also increase its frequency on one of the Zimbabwe routes, with Durban-Harare receiving a fourth weekly flight on Sundays.

Airport
There are three international airports in Zimbabwe: Harare International Airport; Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo, and Victoria Falls Airport.

Harare is the capital city and far away the most important centre, with Borrowdale its trendiest area. Bulawayo in the south is the second city, but Mutare in the Eastern Highlands and Victoria Falls in the west are also economic hubs. Harare’s airport, 10 kilometres from the centre of town, is modern and spacious. Taxis and transfers abound, but most visitors are met by their accommodation transport.  

“It’s a laid back airport, which belies the reality that awaits passengers when they go through the formalities,” says Aaron Munetsi, SAA Regional General Manager: Africa & Middle East – Global Sales. “Airline officials are efficient in their quest for the quickest turnaround times. Every detail is carefully noted and the officials make sure that queues and formalities are as hassle-free as possible. Have all your documents in place and you will not have any challenges.”

“Harare International Airport is usually quite busy, and if you are not in the front of the queue at passport control, you will wait quite a while,” says Marc de Jager, Global Alliance Manager for Travel with Flair.

Priority Pass passengers have access to the Dzimbahwe Executive Lounge. The lounge is airside after the security checks and passport control. Its operating hours are 05h00-22h00 daily, although the hours may vary according to flight schedules. Conditions include: Children under 12 years are not permitted entry; non-smoking. The lounge offers guests air-conditioning; disabled access; newspapers/magazines; television; alcohol; flight info monitor; refreshments and Wi-Fi.

It’s recommended that passengers arrive at the airport at least two hours before the scheduled departure time of their flight.

Hotels
Meikles, with its long history – it opened in 1915 – remains one of Harare’s most popular hotels, and the recent renovation of a large portion of the property should see it remain at the forefront of the Harare hotel scene. It overlooks the historic landmark and colourful flower gardens of Africa Unity Square and is known for its friendly staff. Meikles has 306 rooms and offers a range of services, including a business centre, club lounge, swimming pool, massage and salon facility, golf club membership (located close to both Royal Harare and Chapman golf clubs), gym, gift shop and conference and banqueting facilities.

“I prefer staying at the Meikles hotel as it is in the city centre and I can have all my meetings at the hotel,” says De Jager. “They have fair conference facilities and meeting rooms. The rooms are fairly average (written before the renovation – ed), but above standard in relation to other hotels in the city. There are also some great guest houses as well.”

“I stayed at the Meikles Hotel and found it to be safe and clean, although rather over-priced,” says Abdul Aziz Mangera, Business Development Manager: Southern Africa for Lufthansa.

Centrally located in the Avenues, within walking distance of downtown Harare, the 25-year-old Bronte Hotel is also very popular with business travellers. Its 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.

If you’re looking for a large conference venue, then Rainbow Towers & Conference Centre could be a good bet, as it has over a dozen different venues and an enormous auditorium that can seat 4,500 delegates. It also has an extensive accommodation offering, with 305 rooms, and the refurbishment of the hotel should ensure that more business returns to Rainbow Towers.

In terms of brand names, Harare also has the Crown Plaza Harare-Monomotapa and the Holiday Inn Harare, whilst Cresta Hotels has three properties – Cresta Jameson (downtown), Cresta Lodge – Harare (Harare outskirts) and Cresta Oasis (central Harare).

Cresta Jameson has history and a great location, while the executive Usual Place Bar is a great option for a post-work drink after a long day of meetings. Alternatively, you can indulge in a little pampering at the health and beauty spa.

If you’re looking to mix business and pleasure and get out of the city centre, try Cresta Lodge – Harare, where the Chatters Restaurant is known for its famous gourmet dishes and imported wines.

Cresta Oasis has four equipped conference venues and a business centre. These facilities are modern and tastefully furnished, whilst the Café Afrique restaurant caters to both indigenous and continental tastes.

Cresta also has the Cresta Churchill in Bulawayo – a 50-room property that apparently “oozes Tudor charm”. All the Cresta properties offer Wi-Fi.

If you fancy your golf, heading into the country, and have some time on your hands, make the 300 kilometre trip to Leopard Rock in Mutare. By all accounts, well worth the visit.

Card Acceptance
The use of credit cards is still very limited with only a few service providers accepting Visa or MasterCards in Zimbabwe.

Interestingly, from a cash point of view, the Zimbabwe dollar was the official currency from 1980 to April 2009, before use of it was effectively abandoned due to skyrocketing inflation. Currencies such as the South African rand, US dollar, Botswana pula, British pound and the euro are now used for all transactions in Zimbabwe. The government has insisted that any attempts to reintroduce the Zimbabwe dollar should only be considered if industrial output improves significantly.

So, it might mean carrying a few different currencies on you, although you are probably safe with US dollars and rands.

Visas
Nationals of the following African countries do not need a visa to enter Zimbabwe: Botswana, DRC, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Nationals of the following African countries can be granted visas at the port of entry upon payment of the visa fee: Egypt, Rwanda and Seychelles. You can also obtain this visa in advance at an embassy. Visas cost $30 (single entry), $45 (double entry) and $55 (multi-entry).

Nationals of the following African countries are required to apply for and obtain visas prior to travelling: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde Islands, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo (Brazzaville), Cote D’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia.

Connectivity
Zimbabwe has three main mobile operators; Econet, Telecel and NetOne. Econet is currently the biggest mobile operator with more than eight million subscribers. Telecel has just over three million and Net-One is the smallest of the three with about one million subscribers. The Zimbabwean cellular operator Econet Wireless is targeting 100% network coverage in the country by 2015, up from around 74% currently and just 13% three years ago. The firm says the dollarisation of the economy, which saw the local Zimbabwe dollar replaced by the US dollar under a multi-currency system in 2009, and improving political stability have helped create a sound platform for investment in infrastructure.

Health
Compulsory vaccination: yellow fever (depending on country of origin and stopover).

Recommended vaccinations: hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhoid, tetanus, polio.

Malaria is prevalent, so make sure you take the necessary precautions.

Although government hospitals are lacking in facilities, there are plenty of private medical centres, especially in Harare, where quality treatment is available 24/7. There are also several ambulance companies who can undertake medical evacuation where necessary – visitors not having medical aid cover will be required to pay cash for any service rendered.

Visitors are advised to carry with them any special medication they may require, and travel insurance is essential.

Drinking water from a tap is not generally considered to be safe.

The Experience
Zimbabwe is generally a very safe country and a fantastic tourist destination. Business in Zimbabwe is conducted in English and is fairly informal, with drinking and socialising very much part of the business scene. Dress is fairly conservative, but lightweight suits or casual jackets are more suited to the hot climate than formal business wear. Zimbabweans are also very friendly and relaxed. They will always meet foreigners with a smile.

The condition of the roads in Zimbabwe seems to have improved considerably since the economic collapse of 2008. Roads between Victoria Falls and Bulawayo, Bulawayo and Masvingo (Great Zimbabwe) and Masvingo and Mutare are all in excellent condition.

Note that almost no petrol stations in Zimbabwe currently take credit cards. Contrary to popular belief, Zimbabwe’s traffic police are generally law-abiding and fair. Roadblocks are frequent, mostly checking licenses and roadworthiness. Be friendly and open, do not bribe, and it will be reciprocated.

There is no bus or rail service worth mentioning, and most travelling is done by private car. Car hire is expensive, but available, and taxis are the chosen form of transport in the cities.

“It is important to note that you are not allowed to take photos of any government buildings, or political party buildings,” says De Jager. “You could be arrested and it would not be a pleasant experience. Traffic is always an issue in Harare due to the interrupted electricity supply, and it’s busiest at the peak times, so try and plan to move around outside of these times. Electricity supply is a big issue in Harare, so be aware of it beforehand and have back-up juice packs for your phone if necessary. Internet connectivity is also hampered by the electricity supply, so if you need to do a presentation, always make sure that you don’t have to do a live demo.”

Contacts
zim.gov.zw
zimbabwetourism.net

Comment
Kagiso Dumasi – Commercial Manager Africa: BCD Travel
I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at Harare International Airport, as I was expecting to be met by a strife-torn and dishevelled airport, due to the much-publicised economic decline of Zimbabwe. There was no evidence of that.

An increasing number of foreign airlines are flying into Harare these days, which is a good sign. They include South African Airways with direct flights from Johannesburg, Ethiopian Airlines from Addis Ababa, Kenya Airways from Nairobi, TAAG Angola Airlines from Luanda and EgyptAir from Cairo via Dar es Salaam.

The airport is a quick 15-minute drive from the city, travelling by taxi. Make sure you negotiate with the driver in advance before your journey gets under way.

Due to the proximity to South Africa and regularity of flights to Harare, I normally fly in early in the morning and depart in the evening. This seems to be the trend for business travellers from neighbouring countries. For international travellers, the Holiday Inn Harare is a good choice with reasonably priced room rates, complimentary Wi-Fi and a great location, about a kilometre from  downtown Harare.

US dollars and South African rands are widely accepted. Stick to changing currency at reputable bureaus and avoid the black market. Harare is fairly safe, clean and what I would call a ‘functional city’.

Air Travel
Air Botswana – www.airbotswana.co.bw
Air Namibia – www.airnamibia.com.na
Air Zimbabwe – www.airzimbabwe.aero
Airlink – www.flyairlink.com
British Airways – www.ba.com (Comair)
EgyptAir – www.egyptair.com
Emirates – www.emirates.com
Ethiopian – www.ethiopianairlines.com
Kenya Airways – www.kenya-airways.com
KLM – www.klm.com
Kulula – www.kulula.com
LAM – www.lam.co.mz
SAA – www.flysaa.com
SA Express – www.flyexpress.aero
TAAG – www.taag.com

Hotels
Harare
Cresta Jameson – www.crestahotels.com
Cresta Lodge – Harare – www.crestahotels.com
Cresta Oasis – www.crestahotels.com
Crowne Plaza Harare – www.ihg.com
Holiday Inn Harare – www.ihg.com
Imba Matombo – www.imbahotels.co.zw
Meikles – www.meikles.com
New Ambassador – www.rtgafrica.com
Rainbow Towers – www.rtgafrica.com
The Brontë – www.brontehotel.com

Bulawayo
Bulawayo Rainbow – www.rtgafrica.com
Cresta Churchill – www.crestahotels.com
Holiday Inn Bulawayo – www.ihg.com

Mutare
Leopard Rock – www.lonrhohotels.com

Car Rental
Avis – www.avis.com
Budget – www.budget.com
Europcar – www.europcar.com

TMC
Access-to-Africa – www.access-to-africa.com
America Express – www.americaexpresstravel.co.za
CWT – www.carlsonwagonlit.com
Harvey World – www.harveyworld.co.za
HRG – www.hrgworldwide.com
Travel with Flair – www.travelwithflair.co.za
XL Travel – www.xltravel.co.za