A Chinese couple smiles while taking pictures of the blossoming jacaranda trees in Harare’s Africa Unity Square, which is adjacent to the famous Meikles Hotel.
People in Zimbabwe always look forward to the purple blossoms which, apart from simply being beautiful, are seen as marking the change of seasons – the end of the dry winter and the hope that summer rains are on the way.
Just as peony is a Chinese icon, so too is jacaranda an icon of Zimbabwe.
According to the couple’s tourist guide Arnold Mukokera, they are visiting the country courtesy of a Zimbabwean tourism attaché based in Beijing.
“Zimbabwe has sent people to Beijing who it employs to market the country. I was among the people employed by the Zimbabwean government when I was at university in China. When I came back home, I decided to be a Chinese tourist guide because I am fluent in Mandarin,” he said.
Mukokera said every week he has clients that come from Asian countries.
Zimbabwe boasts an array of globally competitive tourist attractions including Chimanimani National Park, Chinhoyi Caves, Zambezi National Park, and Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
It is also home to an abundance of diverse wildlife resources, featuring the planet’s second-largest congregation of elephants.
However, for Chinese Ambassador to Zimbabwe Zhou Ding, Shona Sculpture is exceptional as an attraction.
“Shona Sculpture is a treasure of Zimbabwe and the whole world. I always tell the Chinese visitors to visit the sculpture centres dotted across the country to have an appreciation of the art,” he said.
Stone sculpture and artwork date back to time immemorial in Zimbabwe. The country’s rich culture of artworks is showcased in many galleries spread out across the country, such as the Shona Sculpture Gallery, the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, and the National Handcraft Centre.
According to Xinhua News Agency, Zimbabwe in May welcomed the first group of 20 Chinese tourists after the COVID-19 pandemic with a ceremony at the Victoria Falls International Airport near Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe’s prime tourist destination.
Givemore Chidzidzi, chief operating officer of Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), said Zimbabwe’s tourism industry has been on the rebound after suffering massive setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic, and that rebound is being driven by the Chinese market.
The country witnessed a decline in visitor arrivals from 2.29 million in 2019 to 639,000 in 2020, and tourism revenue declined from $1.25 billion in 2019 to $360 million in 2020.
“Before the pandemic, Zimbabwe received 22,000 visitors from China in 2019, but this declined to 3,600 arrivals in 2020,” said Chidzidzi.
However, arrivals from China to Zimbabwe in 2022 reached 23,422, surpassing the number in 2019 and defying the continuing declining trend in tourist numbers in the current global market, he said.
“We are therefore excited about the return of organised groups like we are witnessing today, as it heralds a new recovery trajectory for tourism from China,” said Chidzidzi.
Barbara Rwodzi, Zimbabwe’s tourism and hospitality minister, said her government was targeting the Chinese market because of strong historical ties and the country’s vast population.
“China is becoming an important source market for Zimbabwe, and we are expecting a huge jump in tourists as we go into [this year’s] festive season,” Rwodzi said during World Tourism Day on 27 September.
New tourism campaign
Speaking to ChinAfrica, Rwodzi said the country will introduce enticing packages to attract Chinese tourists.
“We will soon launch a visit Zimbabwe campaign where we will have subsidised travel packages and will also market the country’s destinations. We want to tap into 20 million Chinese tourists who visit the world each year,” she said.
Rwodzi said Zimbabwe was among the most popular destinations for Chinese visitors after the Asian giant relaxed two-year-long pandemic measures to allow its citizens to travel for tourism.
She said Zimbabwe has been implementing long-term strategies – including resuming direct flights to China, relaxed e-visa requirements, direct marketing in China through embassies and travel agents – and investing heavily to woo Chinese tourists.
In 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic, Zimbabwe, in collaboration with Chinese investment company Touch Road International Holdings Group and Ethiopian Airlines, launched a tourism package that saw the Southern African country receive 350 tourists monthly from China.
The package, which was known as Tour Africa – New Horizon Project Zimbabwe Chapter, emanated from a memorandum of understanding signed between the Ministry of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry and Touch Road International Holdings Group in China during the first state visit by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in May 2018.
Approved destination status
The Zimbabwean government has made a concerted effort to boost tourism, one of the critical sectors of its economy, by introducing a range of initiatives.
In 2004, Zimbabwe was granted Approved Destination Status (ADS) by China.
ADS is a status granted to a foreign country by the Chinese government, which allows Chinese outbound tour groups to travel to that country. The ADS tourism market is different from the traditional tourism market.
Without an ADS agreement, a destination country is not allowed to receive tour groups from China or to promote its tourism business in China. Under the bilateral agreement, China’s tourism authority authorises qualified domestic travel agencies to handle outbound travel and Chinese tour groups to an ADS country.
Only these authorised agencies are eligible to promote and organise tours, handle visa applications, make financial transactions in foreign currencies, and deal with other related businesses.
Some of the developing countries in Southern Africa with an ADS agreement with China are South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, and Namibia.
Tourism is Zimbabwe’s third-largest sector after mining and agriculture and has the potential to play a significant role in Zimbabwe’s economic recovery.
African Times has published the article in partnership with ChinAfrica Magazine.