The international isolation Zimbabwe has been experiencing for the past three years could turn out to be a blessing in disguise, at least for the tourism industry, once one of the fastest growing sectors of the country’s economy.
According to the country’s largest hotel chain, Zimbabwe Sun, domestic tourism has now become the backbone of the group which runs 13 hotels and resorts in Zimbabwe and one hotel in Mozambique.
The hotel group, which employs 1 400, says this is the case in mature tourist destinations. And the group has every reason to smile. It has just “emerged from the doldrums” to regain its status as the country’s premier tourism and hospitality entity.
And it is now gunning to become a continental hotel and leisure group. Its turnover increased from $2.3 billion last year to $8.6 billion this year. Operating profit shot up from $136.2 million to $2.1 billion while net profit increased from $2.2 billion to $3.1 billion.
Last year’s net profit was boosted by insurance proceeds of $2.7 billion for Elephant Hills which was gutted by fire on 24 July 2001,otherwise the group had made a loss of $507.6 million.
The group says the tourism industry has suffered from negative publicity over the past three years. The international media, it says, has been portraying the country as an unsafe destination with travel warnings from major source markets which refuse to insure those intending to travel to the country which has the Victoria Falls, the seventh wonder of the world.
It says though the September 11 bombing and the terrorist bombings in Indonesia had made Southern Africa a preferred destination with arrivals in South Africa growing by 22 percent, the expected trickle in Zimbabwe had not materialised mainly because of moral objections rather than safety considerations.
Though the country had cultivated new markets in Asia, the Iraq war and the outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) had negatively impacted on this market. A new market had, however, been established in Southern Europe from countries like Spain and Italy.
Foreign earnings accounted for slightly more than half of the group’s revenue. They grew by 350 percent to $4.8 billion. The group says it is now gunning to become a continental hotel group and has registered a new company African Sun, in Mauritius, to drive all continental initiatives.
It is already evaluating opportunities in Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Ghana and South Africa. It is envisaging the management and operation of one hotel in Mombasa and another in Nairobi in Kenya.
It has signed a memorandum of understanding with a leading corporation in Angola whose portfolio includes hotels. Zimsun will be the managing partner for the hotel operations. Zimsun has also a right of first refusal to manage a proposed “state-of-the-art” development in Francistown.