ZIMBABWE has been named the top African destination for 2017 by a renowned American travel magazine on the back of its tourism infrastructure despite the economic downturn.

In its Best Places to Travel 2017 list, Conde Nast Traveler ranked Zimbabwe 13 out of the 17 listed destinations, one of two African destinations on the list.The other being Rwanda at number 14. Conde Nast Traveler is a luxury and lifestyle travel magazine published by Condé Nast in the United States.

“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.

“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 Tourism Authority (ZTA) head of corporate affairs Sugar Chagonda said getting such an endorsement would help market the country as an ideal tourism destination.

“We are very much excited and that has also added a lot of value in terms of marketing and we are looking forward to seeing lots of visitors coming to Zimbabwe. This endorsement gives us an edge in terms of marketing.

What we need to appreciate is that tourism is a sector that can only work when enabler service providers are coming on board. We cannot do it alone as ZTA,” he said.

Zimbabwe Council of Tourism president Tich Hwingwiri weighed in, saying: “Our role is to give a memorable experience to our valued guests and each player must excel in their respective areas in offering our warm Zimbabwean hospitality to ensure the endorsement becomes a total reality on the ground.”

He said airlines, restaurants, hotels, customs and taxi drivers all have a role to play in marketing the country as an ideal tourist destination.

“This creates a desire for potential visitors to consider Zimbabwe as part of their African tour,” Hwingwiri said.

Despite the endorsement, the recently released Zimbabwe Visitor Exit Survey Report 2015/16 showed that 9,8% of visitors came from Europe, while 5,7% were from the Americas.

Africa is the country’s biggest source market with 80,7% of visitors coming from the continent.

BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA