Zimbabwe’s annual international tourism fair, “Sanganai Hlanganani,” will this year take place in the country’s second largest city, Bulawayo, from June 16-18. The location will be the Zimbabwe International Exhibition Centre (ZIEC) which sits on 17 hectares of land and offers some 55,000 square meters of indoor and outdoor spaces spread across 6 major halls and dozens of pavilions. The move is aimed to facilitate a larger number of stands since at the 2015 edition, though setting a new record number of 328 participating exhibitors, at least 10 foreign companies failed to secure space after both conference center floors inside the Rainbow Towers and Conference Centre and the outdoor tents had sold out.
Information received earlier in the week suggests that already some 85 companies and organizations have booked their stand space at ZIEC, including the Kenya Tourism Board and exhibitors from South Africa, Zambia, Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana, and Egypt. Going by the attendance of last year, many more companies and organizations will sign up to participate in this Southern African tourism exhibition, including from countries like Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Namibia, and Ethiopia.
Officials from the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) are also expecting that the number of hosted buyers will rise again, after reaching 110 last year, which is crucially important as they are the ones generating business for Zimbabwe’s safari and tour operators and the safari lodges and hotels across the country.
ZTA officials have also confirmed that international travel and tourism media representatives will again be invited to showcase the country which continues to struggle with negative perception and selective boycotts, posing challenges for the local tourism industry.
In the face of such action, Zimbabwe has done the smart thing, making travel to the country even easier through targeted changes in their visa policy. Most Western nationals take the option to obtain a visa on arrival at one of the lowest fees on the continent at just US$30 for a single entry visa or US$50 for the combined Zimbabwe/Zambia “UniVisa” which allows visits to both countries and repeated border crossings between the two, as safari itineraries make it necessary.
The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in their latest data release, ranks Zimbabwe as the 29th country out of 54 selected for their progress made in facilitating international travel over the past 5 years, after changing a total of 117 regulations resulting in progressively rising visitor numbers again. These changes are largely attributed to Zimbabwe’s Minister of Tourism and Hospitality, Walter Mzembi, now the longest-serving African tourism minister, who has taken these initiatives not only to the UNWTO Regional Commission for Africa, but has also managed to put it on the agenda of the African Union.
While AU member state Seychelles stands out for requiring no visa at all, from any nationality across the globe, efforts are now underway at the AU level to progressively lift visa requirements for citizens of African Union member states to finally tap into the rich continental travel market and promote travel across Africa. Discussed in length during the ministerial round table at last year’s Sanganai Hlanganani Tourism Fair, when ministers from Congo, Mozambique, and South Africa joined Walter Mzembi on stage, a progress review and formulation of an action plan towards that end is no doubt going to be on the agenda for the 2016 fair in Bulawayo.
Bulawayo itself, also known as the City of the Kings, is within easy reach of the “Great Zimbabwe” monuments, the Matobo National Park, and Hwange National Park, and is only a half-hour flight from both Victoria Falls and the capital, Harare.