Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in southeast Africa, bordered by Mozambique, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. The country has a population of over 15 million people, from which around 2.8 million people live in the metropolitan area around its capital, Harare.

This controversial country has been ruled by dictator Robert Mugabe since 1980, when its independency from the UK became internationally recognised. Zimbabwe’s history, like that of most African countries, is filled with long periods of political and economic turmoil. However, its natural sceneries remained a focus of touristic attraction throughout even the difficult times.

International tourism accounted for 20.3% of Zimbabwe’s exports in 2014 and generated a revenue of US$827m to the country. The Victoria Falls and the Zambezi river account as the most sought-after sightseeing places by the tourists visiting the country.

Although Zimbabwe holds unmatched natural beauties, the sector accounts for only a small portion of the country’s GDP. In 2015, tourism made up to only 5.2% of the GDP, falling from 5.6% in 2014. The country still struggles with the usual issues that affect tourism in other African countries, like deficient overall infrastructure – ranging from poor air transport and road infrastructure to tourism services infrastructure (an unfriendly business environment which creates a difficult environment for companies to do business in and, consequently, grow the hospitality sector) and issues with safety and security.

Although Zimbabwe still requires investments in the areas that support tourism, the country presents a huge potential for the development of this sector. With unmatched natural beauty, exotic and ancient culture and unique food this country has great potential to become a preferred tourist destination in Africa.

Improving the laws to attract foreign investment, fostering private-public partnerships in hospitality, and investing into marketing the Zimbabwean brand in the international market, could be the tourism sector’s first steps in gaining more traction in the country.

Tourism in sub-Saharan Africa

In 2015 the World Economic Forum published its sixth edition of the Travel and Tourism Competitive Report, which covered a broad range of aspects that affect the tourism industry in more than 140 countries. In its analysis, the report takes into account data from many fronts, such as international air carriers, customs authorities, the hotel industry, travel agencies and industry specialists to evaluate 90 indicators that, when put together, create a global rank of the “Most Tourist-ready Economies”.

The 90 parameters that compose the Global Travel and Tourism (T&T) Competitive Index are grouped into four categories: enabling environment; travel and tourism and enabling conditions; infrastructure; and natural and cultural resources. The index provides a good comparison of the attractiveness of the tourism industry in different countries, showing which areas are doing well and what could still be improved upon.

Overall, Africa’s tourism sector faces some hardships that prevents countries from exploring a large and untapped potential. With the most diverse fauna and flora in the world, beautiful beaches, rivers and waterfalls, rich culture and food, Africa as a whole could greatly develop its tourism industry. Longstanding infrastructural challenges, low health and hygiene standards, closed or bureaucratic business environments and lengthy and difficult processes in obtaining a visa are the main obstacles hindering the development of the tourism industry in the continent.

South Africa still remains as the most tourism-ready country in sub-Saharan Africa. However, in the Global T&T Competitive Index, it ranks 48th. Zimbabwe ranks lower, both in the regional group (15th in sub-Saharan Africa) and globally (115th position).

According to the T&T Competitive Report, Zimbabwe has strong natural resources, like world heritage cultural sites, animal species, protected areas and a high quality natural environment. It also ranks well in ease of finding skilled employees and female labour force participation. However, the overall business environment sector still lacks a solid base necessary to attract more investment. Rules on foreign direct investment, property rights and the steps necessary to obtain construction permits and open a business are some of the issues faced by entrepreneurs of the tourism sector.

Most Tourism-ready Economies in Sub-Saharan Africa

Global Rank

Regional Rank

South Africa

48

1

Seychelles

54

2

Mauritius

56

3

Namibia

70

4

Kenya

78

5

Cape Verde

86

6

Botswana

88

7

Tanzania

93

8

Rwanda

98

9

Zambia

107

10

Swaziland

108

11

The Gambia

109

12

Senegal

112

13

Uganda

114

14

Zimbabwe

115

15

 Zimbabwe’s tourist attractions

Zimbabwe is distinctive in Africa for its large number of medieval-era city ruins built in a unique dry stone style. Possibly the most famous of these are the Great Zimbabwe ruins in Masvingo, which originate from the Kingdom of Zimbabwe era. Located in the southeast of the country, near Lake Mutirikwe and the town of Masvingo, the ruins constitute what used to be the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe.

The stone city, built between the 11th and 15th centuries, spans an area of near 800 hectares and its population exceeded 10,000 people. Circa 1450, the capital was abandoned due to deforestation and because the hinterland could no longer furnish food for the overpopulated city. It is recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Great Zimbabwe National Monument

In western Zimbabwe, the Zambezi National Park and the Victoria Falls National Park cover an area of 56,000 hectares. The parks are dissected by the great Zambezi River, which also forms the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia for much of its length. A wide variety of large mammals may be found within the parks, including elephants, lions, buffalos and leopards. In addition, herds of sable antelope, eland, zebra, giraffe, kudu, waterbuck and impala, as well as many of the smaller species of game, can be viewed there. The Zambezi River is home to over 75 species of fish and is famous for its bream and fighting tiger fish.

Besides the fauna, the Victoria Falls is one of the most popular attractions in the parks. The waterfall stands at an altitude of about 915m above mean sea level and spans to about 1,708m wide, with an average depth of 100m – the deepest point being 108m. Sprays from this giant waterfall can be seen from a distance of 30km.