THE seven percent increase in international tourist arrivals to Zimbabwe in the first half of 2015 is a sign of hope and an indicator of improved international sentiment about the country.
Tourism is a strategic cash cow for the government, contributing about $1 billion to the national fiscus annually.
We reported yesterday that the country recorded a seven percent increase in international tourist arrivals to 930,276 by June 2015, according to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA).
The figure compares favourably with 867,163 recorded in the same period last year.
The tourism authority says the increase has mostly been driven by the rise in arrivals from mainland Africa at a time when all other major markets experienced a decline except Oceania, which rose by 26 percent.
Arrivals from mainland Africa amounted to 811,717 up from 745,566 in 2014 representing a nine percent increase.
South Africa dominated African arrivals with 38 percent of the share given its big market, said ZTA.
We feel the growth in African arrivals is an eye opener, emphasising the need for the country to broaden its marketing scope across the globe.
While over the years we have generally tended to focus more on luring tourists from traditionally lucrative European and American sources, the latest statistics indicate a change in travel patterns.
This shows the African continent is lucrative too and the country stands to benefit immensely from tapping opportunities in it.
Thus, more marketing and engagement with African and Asian travellers is required to boost tourism earnings.
ZTA has said most arrivals from Africa came through Beitbridge Border Post and Harare International Airport.
In contrast, arrivals from Europe fell marginally by one percent with a decline in major markets including France, Germany, Italy, Nordic countries and Spain pulling down the overall performance of the region.
“The arrivals fell from 60,530 in 2014 to 60,021 in 2015. The European market share stood at six percent down one percentage point from seven percent in 2014. Europe remains the greatest overseas market for the country,” said ZTA.
We feel the tourism sector could capitalise on on-going government re-engagement efforts with the West to intensify its outreach programmes.
This will not only consolidate the present arrivals but entice new markets to also visit Zimbabwe.
This year the country expects to reap about $1, 5 billion from $827 million realised last year.
Arrivals from the Asian market dropped eight percent to 14,999 from 16,370 in 2014 with Japan and South Korea (the major markets) also declining.
However, China’s performance was encouraging, rising by 46 percent during the period under review.
“Research has shown that 81 percent of the Chinese arrivals entered through Harare International Airport, followed by Victoria Falls border with six percent, Victoria Falls airport with five percent and Kazungula with three percent,” said ZTA.
The authority noted the cumbersome visa procedure as a major inhibiting factor for the growth of this market in Zimbabwe.
It said steps were already under way to improve the Visa regime to attract more tourists.
America continues to be the second biggest overseas visitor to Zimbabwe since last year, having maintained an overall market share of three percent despite a 11 percent dip in arrivals to 27,000 from 30,373 in 2014.
During the period under review, Oceania registered a 26 percent increase from 11,575 arrivals in 2014 to 14,567.
Its market share stood at two percent up from one percent in the first half of 2014.
The Middle East continues to trail behind in its contribution to total arrivals into the country contributing less than one percent of the market share.
The region recorded a 33 percent fall in the first half of the year.
On accommodation statistics, ZTA said the average hotel room occupancy level shed one percentage point from 42 percent to 41 percent in the first half.
Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi has said Zimbabwe could achieve a $5 billion economy by 2020 with tourism contributing more.
Such an ambitious dream is commendable. We feel its success is hinged on collective efforts of all interested stakeholders.
Development of adequate infrastructure, fair regulation and taxation as well as professional media reporting, can help develop a robust tourism industry.