In 1997 the countries tourist industry was just getting underway in a real sense. Tourist arrivals reached 1,2 million with nearly 400 000 tourists visiting the Victoria Falls - a record. It was expected that with tourism growing in South Africa at over 8 per cent per annum and tourist arrivals there expected to reach 10 million a year by 2003, that Zimbabwe could look forward to rapid growth in this vital industry.
The tourist industry is an important future growth sector for many reasons - employment; it is estimated that for every 8 tourists visiting the country, one local job is created. This is a very high job creation ratio. Also it is a powerful generator of foreign earnings, it is an industry that is growing fast all over the world and is expected to continue to grow. Finally it is one of the service driven industries and not wholly dependent on resources or fickle global demand.
Zimbabwe has great natural potential for tourism - good climate, many attractive physical features, friendly people, a sound infrastructure (with the exception perhaps of air travel) and some of the best wildlife resources on the continent. Before the present crisis we offered tourists a low risk, safe tourist destination at reasonable cost.
The crisis generated by the bad governance of Zanu PF between 1998 and today has led to a collapse of the tourist industry, from which it is only recovering slowly. Tourist arrivals fell to 20 per cent of the 1997 levels in 2002. Foreign earnings to less that US$60 million. Employment crashed from over 100 000 in 1997 to less than 20 000 in 2002. Informal job losses were estimated at 200 000.
Serious damage to infrastructure is being done at present by neglect and shortages of hard currency. Poaching and continued violent occupation of private land is undermining the whole wildlife sector - threatening the viability of the hunting and game viewing industries. The collapse of law and order in many parts of the country coupled to desperate economic conditions and destitution has also given rise to serious crime in the cities. This is deterring visitors and tourism.
Despite all of this the industry is still capable of a rapid recovery in the event that the political situation is normalized. Tourist arrivals at the Falls are rising and South Africa is experiencing a tourist boom. This is spilling over into neighboring states and when Zimbabwe comes back to normal, we can expect to benefit from this influx to the region.