Zim regains place as holiday destination of choice

HARARE - Everyone loves complaining about Zimbabwe’s collapsing economy, but according to 300 000 Condé Nast Traveler readers, there are beacons showing the crisis-torn country is reviving its flagging tourism sector.

The magazine just released its annual Readers’ Choice Awards for 2016.

Over 300 000 readers voted Zimbabwe among 13 out of the 17 listed destinations worldwide. Zimbabwe is one of only two picks of African destinations with Rwanda on the global list.

The US magazine empire Conde Nast said Zimbabwe should be your next holiday destination.

This comes as the Tourism ministry has launched a marketing campaign in the hope of attracting tourists and investors to the country, probably the country’s last hope in fixing its own internal finances without relying on aid.

While Conde Nast is not publicly traded, many publishers look to it and other publishers like Time Warner Inc for signs of how the business is faring.

The privately-held company said Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls International Airport, finally opened by President Robert Mugabe last month, with a runway capable of handling the world’s largest planes, plus 28 aircraft docking bays which could triple the capacity of the old airport to 1,5 million passengers a year, looks set to usher in a new era of tourism for Zimbabwe.

For those who want to see more of the country, new internal flights on the low-cost FastJet airline, together with private aviation companies, make this possible.

The tourism sector also hopes that Zimbabwe’s political climate will become more stable.

“A new $150 million airport in Victoria Falls, capable of welcoming 1,5 million people a year aboard massive passenger jets, is only one of several reasons why Zimbabwe is on our 2017 list.

“The country is building up its tourism infrastructure despite — and, sometimes, in spite of — years of economic downturn and authoritarian governance,” Conde Nast Traveler said in its review of Zimbabwe.

“The same resilience is on show in the country’s conservation efforts; there’s been a clampdown on poaching and biodiversity flourishes in Hwange National Park, the country’s largest game reserve.

“While everyone’s booking stays in the safari parks of Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, and South Africa, we recommend scouting for the Big Five in much less-crowded Zimbabwe.”

Zimbabwe’s nature reserves are teeming with the so-called “Big Five” game - lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, and rhinos.

The airport’s development has spawned a number of improvements and restaurant and hotel openings.

The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, built 20 years ago on a ridge overlooking a waterhole in the Zambezi National Park and still one of the best hotels around, has launched a more intimate club with butler service, and also smart new apartments. The hotel’s co-founder, Ross Kennedy, one of the Victoria Falls’ most ardent and vocal supporters, has even started work on an $18 million family-friendly theme park.

Another place to stay has always been the Victoria Falls Hotel. Now there’s crocodile Caesar salad on the lunch menu at Stanley’s Terrace, from where you can watch the spray from the falls rise into the sky like Prince of Wales plumes, and silver service in the formal dining room where a pianist plays slow tunes.

At least 3 000 and up to 5 000 visitors are arriving by foot each monthly on the Zimbabwe side of the falls which straddle the border with Zambia, a clear sign that the country is back on the tourism map.

From the falls, the Zambezi River continues its journey west towards the Indian Ocean until it fans out to form a vast inland sea, created by the construction of the Kariba Dam wall, officially opened by the Queen Mother in 1960.

Two local families recently joined forces to build Changa Safari Camp, a fantastic little lodge on the edge of the Matusadona National Park and just the sort of low-key, secluded hideaway Kariba deserves, with its private marina and pristine boats, big tented rooms with polished concrete floors, outdoor showers and wooden decks overlooking the lake. From Kariba, its just a 20-minute flight to Mana Pools National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a true Zambezi Valley classic, famous for its canoe trails and walking safaris.

In the capital, smart little guest houses such as Wavell House Private Guest Lodge are once again doing respectable business and spectacular Gonarezhou National Park, down in the south on the Mozambique border, looks like it’s back on track with the recent addition of Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge and a fresh litter of family-run bush camps.

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