'UNWTO conference to boost tourism'

HARARE - Zimbabwe's tourism sector could register significant growth this year following the country’s hosting of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) conference, a major industry player Africa Albida Tourism (AAT) said.

Last August, the country co-hosted, with Zambia, UNWTO’s 20th general conference in Victoria Falls and Livingstone respectively.

Brian Gardiner, AAT’s group operations manager, last week said the country’s tourism industry has the potential to reach the 1997-98 peak of 2,5 million tourists, if the political environment remains stable.

“The largely peaceful elections we had last year had a huge impact on the sector and we are very optimistic about the growth of tourism in Zimbabwe,” he said.

According to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), the country — struggling to shake off a bad perception tag in key source markets — received nearly two million tourists last year.

Gardiner noted that his company — running hotels, lodges, restaurants and parks in most southern African tourist destinations with Victoria Falls as the hub — has attracted new markets that are keen on visiting Zimbabwe.

“Apart from our traditional markets such as the United States of America (US), Australia and Europe, we have had enquiries from other countries such as Bolivia, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago among others,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s tourism industry has been on a recovery path after a decade-long crisis that dampened arrivals due to a flurry of travel warnings from markets like Japan, the US, Germany and Britain in response to a political and economic crisis as well as worsening international relations.

AAT, which owns the world famous Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, recently invested over $12 million in an expansion drive as the group positions itself to optimise benefits from the recovery of the country’s tourism industry.

Gardiner noted that occupancy levels at his firm’s properties had averaged 46 percent during the “difficult years” but has since recovered remarkably, with the Victoria Falls Safari lodge now averaging about 82 percent.

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