Poor roads, roadblocks stall tourism

MUTARE - Manicaland's tourism sector is being undermined by poor road infrastructure and ubiquitous police roadblocks on highways leading to the holiday destinations, hoteliers here have complained bitterly.

Tourists travelling to the eastern highlands holiday destinations such as Mt Inyangani, Mutarazi Falls through the Vumba, Chimanimani rocky mountain range, to Chirinda Forest in Chipinge travelling for recreational, leisure or business purposes, have been put off by the hassle to get to the areas.

Lack of domestic air travel options has forced most tourists to travel by road to access many attractions, such as Mount Inyangani, the eastern highlands, the smaller but also spectacular Bridal Veil Falls and Mutarazi Falls, as well as Hot Springs, where villagers believe the boiling water is stirred by mermaids.

Most hotels in the resort centres are suffering depressed business, which they blame on poor accessibility of the country’s tourist attraction sites.

“The problem of connectivity of our holiday destination is costing us business and is something we need to address as a nation,” Willard Madhombiro, a manager with Golden Peacock Villa Hotel said.

Inns of Zimbabwe chairperson Gordon Addams has been pushing for the demilitarisation of Grand Reef Airport, 22km west of Mutare, in an effort to make the province more accessible to international tourists.

He said this was inhibiting the potential growth of the local tourism sector as it was both more expensive and time consuming.

Grand Reef is an Airforce of Zimbabwe base that has been operational since 1977. The airbase is regularly teeming with soldiers.

“We wish if Grand Reef can be demilitarised and considered for transformation into an international airport, we are sure the benefits for Manicaland will be very big,” Addams told a recent tourism indaba.

Madhombiro said although Manicaland has a rich concentrate of holiday sites, it was effectively cut from other well marketed and accessible resorts.

“Victoria Falls was properly marketed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World but Mutarazi Falls is the highest in Africa and our destination marketing also needs sprucing up.

“We are essentially a resort province because we have globally reputed tourist attractions in almost all of the province’s eight districts and have a lot of interesting experiences to offer but the places are not easily accessible.

“It’s one thing to have a beautiful city and natural sites but another to access them,” Madhombiro said.

This was echoed by White Horse Inn’s Frank Marembo who said heavy police presence on the country’s roads was further isolating them from holiday makers.

“We do not have an airport to connect us with other destinations and someone may have to go through 16 police roadblocks to get to our places out in the Vumba which can be so frustrating,” Marembo said.

From the capital to Mutare, police stop cars on the road ostensibly to control high levels of crime, including armed robberies and murders.

But in reality at these checkpoints, stern-faced officers extort tourists for cash, and often detain them for several minutes if they refuse to cough up some money. 

“An airport can open up Manicaland to international tourists in no time,” Marembo said

Another Vumba hotelier Willard Chitagu, who runs Kwayedza Lodge, said while business in the Manicaland resorts used to be brisk from early December; it became increasingly thin at the turn of the millennium.

“This year it was particularly low because we were only busy from around December 24 to 26,” Chitagu said.

Madhombiro said the connectivity challenges have forced hotels in the city to offer holiday packages in an effort to promote domestic tourism.

“We have been giving discounted rates to promote domestic tourism which we would otherwise not have done if we had international tourists at this time the year,” Madhombiro said.

Leopard Rock in Vumba during the festive season has been refunding its guests traffic fines in a bid to lure more clients.

“Since we have been losing business because of the Zimbabwe Republic Police stopping people and fining them arbitrarily on their way to Leopard Rock, we have a new idea. If you get a ticket on your way to Leopard Rock give us your receipt and we will credit it to your stay,” Leopard Rock said in a notice to guests during the festive season.

Holiday Inn Mutare general manager Clive Chinwada said: “This is a slow season for us and we shift our business to accommodate locals who are travelling to visit friends and relatives as we are mostly into hosting business meetings and conferences.”

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