Why you SHOULD travel to Zimbabwe

8 April 2015

Often in the news for the wrong reasons, Zimbabwe was once, in the not-too-distant past, Southern Africa's premier wildlife-viewing destination. With an abundance of game, spectacular national reserves and World Heritage-listed sites, Zimbabwe still has everything to offer animal-lovers and thrill-seekers. 

After more than a decade of political ruin and economic disaster, good news began to come out of Zimbabwe – tourism was back. Visitors were returning in numbers not seen since the mid 1990's, to take advantage of pristine wilderness areas and enjoy the abundance of Big Five game in uncrowded parks.

A journey to Zimbabwe will take you through a variety of landscapes, from central highveld, balancing boulders and flaming msasa trees, to the lush, green Eastern Highlands with its waterfalls and rivers and the stifling heat of the lowveld, where game viewing is at its very best. Along the way you’ll receive a friendly welcome from locals, famous for their welcoming smiles, hospitality and resilience in the face of hardship.

However, just as tourism is beginning to resurface and as curious visitors and adventure-seekers return to this beautiful country, there are people who feel unwilling to travel to Zimbabwe and feel that by doing so they are giving their tacit support to the government.

The Zimbabwe government made headlines again early in 2015 with the capture of up to 80 (reports vary) young wild elephants to sell them to zoos, possibly in China and the United Arab Emirates (the actual destinations have also been the subject of a lot of rumors). The issue is a controversial one and US tour operators have proposed (and some have already implemented) a boycott on travel to Zimbabwe.

As a Harare-based business which sells volunteer programmes in Zimbabwe to predominantly international tourists, the actions of the government and the negative reaction of the first world makes its way through the layers and ends up negatively affecting our on-the-ground partners who we support through the provision of volunteers and financial funding.

A boycott of Zimbabwe will not hurt the Zimbabwe government, who have shown time and time again that they will not bow to international pressure. It is, as always, the scores of conservationists, rangers, guides and local communities who rely on employment and income from the tourism industry who will have their livelihoods and essential work destroyed by being handed more years under the label of a tourism pariah.

"I don't want to support the government by visiting the country."

Only a small percentage of the cost of your holiday goes on local taxes (15% of your accommodation fee). The vast majority goes straight to the conservation or community projects you are working on to ensure they continue to fund the work and research which they are doing. Without this work, the restoration of Zimbabwe's stunning wilderness areas and the continued safety and security of its wildlife will be put in jeopardy.

Without employment from tourism, thousands of people living in the rural areas lose their income, which, without the benefit of a welfare state, inevitably leads to exponential increases in the bushmeat trade and large animal poaching. Increases which cannot be combatted without huge investments in security, manpower and intelligence.

Conservation in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's conservation efforts are almost entirely funded by private companies, charitable organisations and individuals. During the hyper-inflation years, the government had no cash reserves to support the maintenance of National Parks and wildlife areas and with no tourism to supplement their income, wildlife areas could easily have fallen into ruin.

Without the support of private businesses, Parks in inhospitable desert regions such as Hwange National Park would have been unable to provide water for the tens of thousands of elephants and other large mammals who make it their home. Borehole digging and the installation and maintenance of water pumps in this park has been funded entirely by property owners and organisations who rely completely on tourism.

Most private lodge owners also rely on income from tourism to train and equip their own anti-poaching teams, to stem the increasing tide of international poaching syndicates operating in Southern Africa. A tourist or volunteer presence in private reserves and National Parks is also an effective deterrent to poachers - daily game drives limit the time available for poachers to operate; snare sweeps and fence patrols by volunteers are an essential activity in every conservation area.

Education, employment and healthcare

As well as providing employment to thousands of rural Zimbabweans, conservation organisations and private lodges and game park owners support the provision of schools, health clinics and vocational training. Many rural schools, in areas where whole families often rely on one income, are funded solely by donations from tourists, volunteers and private individuals. The goodwill towards conservation which comes from the provision of these services and that subsequent value in the fight against poaching is priceless.

Tourism accounts for approximately 98,000 jobs (direct and indirect contributions to employment and GDP, data from WTTC) in a country where unemployment is estimated to be between 60%-80% and 65% of people live on less than $1 per day (source: Zimstats). With a tourism boycott, these jobs will disappear.

What can you do? 

The choice of whether to visit Zimbabwe and support its conservation and community development efforts or to boycott in protest against the governments often mind-blowing wildlife decisions, is a personal one. As a Harare-based company with projects in all four corners of Zimbabwe, we know first-hand how important tourists are to the overall economy of the country, but also to those small operators who face a daily struggle to protect their animals and support their local communities. Without tourists, the industry has no recourse to address government on issues such as the sale and killing of elephants.

Still not sure - why not donate?

Whether you visit Zimbabwe or want to support specific organisations from home, we've put together a list of organisations which we recommend. We know them personally, we work with lots of them and your money goes directly to their grass roots operations. 

Dambari Wildlife Trust
Save Valley Conservancy
Imire: Rhino & Wildlife Conservation
Children in the Wilderness Zimbabwe
Friends of Hwange Trust
Bhejane Trust
Matusadona Anti-Poaching Programme
Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force
Lowveld Wild Dog Project
BirdLife Zimbabwe
Wildlife Environment Zimbabwe
The Zambezi Society

What do we think?

We say, visit Zimbabwe! Volunteer, go on safari, marvel at Victoria Falls (much better on the Zimbabwe side!) and enjoy fishing and houseboats on Lake Kariba. This country is, quite simply, a pleasure to be in and we wouldn't to live and work anywhere else.

 

Further reading:

Beks Ndlovu, Safari Guide and CEO of African Bush Camps, speaks out here about boycotting tourism to Zimbabwe.

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