FOREIGN tourist arrivals to Zimbabwe hit record highs between December last year and February this year and are expected to continue into next year, local tour operators have said.

 In December alone, visitors to the Victoria Falls hit 1 000 per day, and the trend continued into last month.

The increase, which equalled the visitor figures for 1999, has been credited to the removal of police roadblocks from the country’s main roads and other interventions following the new political dispensation.

Africa Albida Tourism chief executive, Ross Kennedy said interest in Zimbabwe was “unbelievable. The significance of the removal of roadblocks will be seen quickly because the Europeans used to do 15-21 days of self-drive in Zimbabwe, and now will be back”.

“In December alone, we were getting up to 1 000 visitors daily many through the Kazungula Border Post yet we have just one officer there. 2017 December was the closest we have been 1999. We also have had the best January and February ever. We are hoping if the stability continues tourism can pick up almost immediately. We have engaged other operators to donate resources to expand that border post,” he said.

“I had a full diary here (ITB Berlin) with enquiries from tourists wanting to come to Zimbabwe for longer periods. They are aware of the developments triggered in November, and are keen to return. We’ve been telling them that all is gone now.”

Kennedy said.: “Demand is high. Everyone knows that Zimbabwe is a wonderful country. We are now re-educating the international market about what to expect. They had many things they wanted to know, but hardly any political questions. Yes, fuel situation, roadblocks, quality of accommodation, infrastructure, it’s fantastic.

“There is no magic wand and nothing will happen overnight. But let’s do a few things that can make a difference. In tourism you got to be user-friendly. Things like connectivity, Visas and uncongested border posts.”

A Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe official said there was need to modernise systems in Victoria Falls to improve processing of passengers.

“When we compare ourselves with other players in Africa, we still need to do more. Currently the Victoria Falls Airport operates for 12 hours, but if we are to have additional wide-body aircrafts it means we must adapt,” the official said.

Zambezi Travel’s Graham Simmonds added that there was need for new infrastructure in the Victoria Falls in anticipation of the boom in tourism.

Holiday Inn Zimbabwe country sales manager, Maxwell Moyo said there need to market the whole country rather than focus on Victoria Falls, as this would enable operators to benefit.

Rainbow Tourism Group commercial director, Shupai Marware said: “Tour operators should market the whole country as opposed to Victoria Falls, which no doubt is crowded. We have the Eastern Highlands, the Lowveld, Great Zimbabwe, wildlife parks and much more, therefore, operators must come up with packages that suit the pocket of each visitor.”

By Wisdom Mdzungairi in Berlin, Germany