The Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset) remains a vital beneficiation tool for community based tourism as well as unlocking the value of natural resources under the Value Addition and Beneficiation Cluster. The value addition and beneficiation strategy is anchored on the private sector and communities themselves taking a key role in the execution of the activities around their communities.
Among some of the strategies of the cluster that should be developed are tourism products and diversification, improved product development and diversification.
The key in the beneficiation of this strategy is the capacity building of communities such as women, youth and the physically challenged who will act as key drivers to the revival of Community Based Tourism Enterprises (CBTEs). Implementation of training programmes for communities through Sustainable Tourism Eliminating Poverty Programme will help in the nutritional balance of families and communities.
Efforts should be put to link tourism to rural development and conservation through Zim-Asset and other stakeholders such as the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, so that local people can benefit from visitors, while the visitors also learn something about the local environment and culture.
There are a lot of cultural and historical sites and other places that can unlock tourism revenues for rural communities, but failure to market the places has led to the deterioration of such places, which if managed carefully can bring advantages to local communities through generation of income for locals through jobs in tour companies and the selling of souvenirs and local delicacies to tourists.
Although there are several challenges faced by many communal areas such as the remoteness and inaccessibility, the lack of sufficient funding for the high quality infrastructure demanded by the luxury tourism sector has become a major hindrance.
In addition, some areas are not suitable for game viewing or the lack of secure land tenure and prohibitive costs of building basic infrastructure for tourism such as roads, accommodation, and telecommunications. These challenges can be overcome by the rural communities hosting the tourists themselves. This is far more challenging than simply allowing a professional tour operator to set up in the area, as it can mean rural residents are responsible for the entire tourism process from marketing through to hosting the tourists, sometimes in their own villages.
On the whole, community based tourism is a new field of tourism, and since each project will need to be tailored to local priorities and tourist attractions, various systems are being tried out in different parts of the Southern African Development Community.
Communal lands have many attractions to offer and tourists already enjoy nature tourism, white water rafting and canoeing, viewing rock paintings, rock climbing and bathing in natural hot springs. Some other forms of tourism include trophy hunting which is considered the ultimate eco-tourism in Southern Africa, and is especially important for rural communities in Zimbabwe, which earn significant revenues from foreign hunters.
Hunters tend to travel in smaller numbers, and are usually satisfied with more basic amenities than other tourists, so they have less damaging impact on the environment, while paying higher fees. The hunters are strictly monitored and have to work within government approved quotas; they are accompanied by local licensed trophy hunters, who are trained in wildlife biology, weapon use and maintenance, motor mechanics and camp maintenance.
Leasing hunting concessions to professional safari operators is the most common and successful way that rural communities can gain immediate profit from sharing their land with dangerous wild animals. This also helps in minimizing human and animal conflicts in communal areas.
Rural communities could also benefit from bird watching, there are over 600 species of birds in Zimbabwe and most of these are in rural areas, these range from paradise fly catchers to fish eagles and ostriches. This could be an innovative project which can emphasises the spiritual and cultural significance of certain bird species and rural communities would greatly benefit from offering bird watching tours.
Cultural tourism is another area that could be greatly exploited; Zimbabwe has a rich diversity in culture that ranges from the BaTonga, the Kalangas, the Shangani, the Venda and many other minority groups that are not benefitting any thing from culture tourists.
Cultural tourism benefits tourists who would experience the local cultures of different tribes through sharing traditional foods, music and lifestyle.
The more adventurous version involves tourists staying in mud and rondavel huts, eating local dishes, and trying their hand at traditional tasks such as grinding millet, farming, fishing and mat making.
Storytellers entertain visitors with local tales and visitors can enjoy tribal dancing, drink millet beer and partake in local festivities.
However in order to achieve this, rural communities will need clearly defined secure access to their natural resources, as well as technical assistance to successfully design and manage community based tourism. The introduction of the Township Tourism Initiative last year where old homes of prominent pre-independence nationalists by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) is another commendable initiative and should open other avenues for the dormant community rural tourism in Zimbabwe.
The concept is modelled around the South African model in Soweto where there is booming township tourism.
The properties targeted under the initiative are houses used by the late Vice President Cde Joshua Nkomo, former Zanu leader Hebert Chitepo and Zanu founder Enos Nkala. Highfield, where President Robert Mugabe has a house was chosen as the location of the tourism project because of its historical significance in the struggle for independence in Zimbabwe, just like Soweto’s historical role in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid.
The beginning of this initiative should be used as a benchmark to develop rural based tourism which has proven to be also common in some rural communities in Southern Africa where communities are managing lucrative tourism ventures.