Travelers who say they do not want to visit Zimbabwe because their dollars will swell Mugabe's coffers are actually contributing to the detriment of the environment, many of Zimbabwe's tourism providers believe.
"The environment cannot wait for political change. By the time that is achieved much of our pristine wildlife reserves will be gone and once gone it will be forever," said Clive Stockil, member of the board of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority.
"We need you - those dollars go into conservation. We have got too much in this country that puts us ahead of our competitors in the rest of Africa for us to ignore and not keep focusing our natural attributes."
Speaking at the 2011 Sanganai/Hlanganani travel and tourism fair held in the Harare capital mid-October, Stockil said: "I genuinely believe that it just takes a few minor changes in terms of governments and global perceptions for this country to get back to being among the prime African destinations."
The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority's (ZTA) annual tourism fair held at the Harare International Conference Centre situated at the Rainbow Towers Hotel, formerly Sheraton Hotel, attracted 746 exhibitors sharing 206 stands, according to Tesa Chikaponya, ZTA executive director destinations marketing.
Hosted buyers from South Africa, Botswana, the UK, Belgium, Brussels, Germany and the Middle East totalled 88, plus there were 120 non-hosted buyers.
Tourism providers found the fair much more favorable than previous editions, but there was still a need to attract more international visitors.
"This year's fair is 100% better than last - it's a startling improvement," said Wendy Bourne, marketing executive for African Albida Tourism. "The venue is better, and as a supplier I am prepared to help the ZTA with a buyers list. If we can get the buyers list correct we will be on our way."
Goof de Jong, operations manager Nyati Travel & Tours, believed the venue much improved the fair but there was still not enough foreign interest.
"Germany and other European countries have a big problem with believing they are supporting a regime. They are misguided. We in the tourism industry are providing a good deal of employment, so by coming here tourists are supporting the people of this country."
"We don't want aid, we want trade," he said.
Typical of most tour operators in Zimbabwe today, Nyati was managing 10% of the figures they handled in the 1990s. "We are ticking by and obviously had to diversify. The travel companies that didn't do so didn't survive."
"Hotels are refurbishing, the shops are full - again, the global perception that there is no food on our shelves is painful and damaging. That is long gone but that is what remains in people's heads," said de Jong.
Bourne said the same about foreign perceptions of safety. "What tourists discover when they come here is that it is actually a very safe country. Like anywhere else in the world, if you go into dodgy areas of course you will have problems."
"Tourism has the potential to revitalize the whole country," said Leonard Nhidza, head of investigations for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. In terms of visitor numbers, he believed this year has so far seen an improvement but was way below the numbers of the 1990s.
National Parks' director general Vitalis Chadenga appealed to the international media to apply pressure on the world community to lift the ban on the sale of ivory. "We have 44 tons of elephant ivory and five tons of rhino horn in stock of which we are not allowed to sell: this creates a problem for us."
The parastatal has suffered from lack of funds for years, and wants to be allowed to plough the proceeds of the sale of the stock - which comes from animals that have died naturally - back into conservation.
Around US$100 million was needed to manage all their resources. "We are only managing to raise only 25% of that," he said at a press conference. Poaching was one of the more urgent activities to be addressed. "Poaching is very severe and we need to work very closely with other law enforcement agencies," said Chadenga.
It's obvious there are still many problems for the tourism industry to overcome, but positive changes are apparent, the most recent coup being Zimbabwe and Zambia winning the bid to jointly host the 20th General Assembly of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in 2013 at the Victoria Falls.
Chikaponya said: "The nation is excited and rearing to go. This is the first time the UNWTO has had a bid from countries that want to co-host."
"About 186 countries are going to be represented, each with delegations of up to 20 people. Zambia will be hosting sectional meetings and accommodating visitors too. ZTA are still looking at the modalities of how we are going to handle the event but we have all the capabilities of doing so."
She said that Air Zimbabwe, currently flying but not to full capacity, would be given a new lease of life. "The government is looking at increasing the fleet so that we will be able to cover places like Kariba and increase the frequencies to Victoria Falls."
She welcomed the arrival of other airlines to Zimbabwe including Emirates Airline, due to start operating from Dubai via Lusaka to Harare from February 1st next year. SAA had also increased the size of the airplane operating every Thursday from Johannesburg to Harare.
Stockil concluded: "Our appeal is for governments around the world to lift travel bans and to publicize the fact, for international tour operators to engage with the local operators and put Zimbabwe back to the pre 2000 arrival figures."
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