Tourist arrivals in Zimbabwe surged 18% in the first quarter of this year to 346 299, helped by the stabilising economic and political environment, as the country turns into a safe and competitive destination in the region.A 2012 first quarter report produced by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) shows that tourist arrivals in the first four months rose to 346 299, up from 294 198 recorded in the same period in 2011.
The ZTA said the increase in arrivals was 13% above the projected average growth in arrivals in sub-Saharan Africa this year of 5%.
Mainland Africa remained the major source market, accounting for 308 646 arrivals in the period, up 19% from 258 388 in the comparative period last year.
South Africa maintained its position as the main source market in mainland Africa, representing a market share of 43%, a 2% growth from last year.
Overseas arrivals increased 5% to 37 653, up from 35 810 last year despite general economic instability in the western world.
Arrivals from America grew 28% to 9 901, while Europe’s contribution increased 16% to 16 829 in the period.
Europe contributed 46% of the overseas arrivals, followed by the Americas at 26%.
Asia, Middle East and Oceania plunged 23%, 37% and 7% respectively.
However, ZTA sees arrivals from these regions increasing due to the recently-introduced new airlines flying into the country.
The drop in arrivals from Asia was mainly due to a 52% slump in China’s contribution, attributed to the unavailability of direct access previously provided by Air Zimbabwe.
“This means our destination becomes more expensive to the Chinese through other connecting routes,” said ZTA in the report.
In terms of market share, Africa contributed 89%, followed by Europe at 5%, Americas 3%, Asia and Oceania at 2% and 1% respectively.
National average hotel room occupancy levels grew to 42% during the period, 6% ahead of the figure recorded last year, while bed occupancy levels also rose to 31%, up from 27%.
Lodge room occupancy levels grew to 42%, increasing from 36% recorded in the prior year in the comparative period, while bed occupancy levels also surged 5% to 30%.
Victoria Falls, however, recorded a 3% drop in both room and bed occupancy, a development attributed to a decrease in arrivals from its major source markets such as Japan, China, South Korea, UK and Germany.
Kariba and Masvingo both recorded a 6% decline in room occupancy also attributed to falling numbers of foreign clientele.
ZTA said the results of the first quarter both in tourist arrivals and accommodation utilisation bring positive prospects for the second quarter and beyond, given that the first quarter of the year is usually a low season.
Positive trends are also expected to hinge on improved accessibility as more airlines continue to reach the country, including Air Namibia and Fly Emirates, which are already operating in Zimbabwe.
However, Zimbabwe’s air travel market share dropped by 14% from 17% last year, largely attributed to problems bedevilling Air Zimbabwe.