A friend from Europe visiting this part of Africa for the first time asked me to put together a programme that would ensure that his visit would be unforgettable.
Inside Track with Grace Mutandwa
The first few days of the year I was busy with logistics for the visit. We have known each other for more than two decades so I knew exactly what would make his visit worthwhile.
Hours of making calls and sorting bookings left me disturbed by the way some of the service providers deal with potential clients. Do not get me wrong — I dealt with some very professional and nice people, but others were outright rude and unhelpful. It was almost as if I was asking for a favour!
In the end I scratched potential bookings with some places that I knew my friend would have loved to stay.
The idea was to start out away from Harare. We did the usual Victoria Falls, Matopos, a shebeen in Nkulumane, Chinhoyi Caves and a weekend in the Vumba. In Harare we threw in some clubbing, the botanical gardens, a trip to Domboshava and an afternoon at Ewanrigg botanical gardens just outside the capital among other things.
Ewanrigg is a favourite for plant lovers. Run by the national parks, it is a good place for a picnic and simply to unwind. A brother had set up a bar to cater for those not so enamoured by plants but simply out for a bit of fun in the outdoors.
Our trip to Ewanrigg was revealing. We discovered the bar had been forced to close down because of astronomical rentals. Visitors to Ewanrigg pay an entrance fee to the parks officials and then spend more if they feel like a drink at the bar. The brother running the bar eventually gave up because he had hoped that national parks would be satisfied with the rentals and allow patrons in for free.
I know national parks has to maintain the gardens but surely, there must be a way of ensuring that possible sources of funding are not frustrated. I have heard many people in the service industry complain of high rentals.
Visit Newlands shopping centre, Eastgate and Westgate among other places and the story is the same — rentals are unaffordable. We are destroying whatever possible economic growth outlets are available because of greed.
When rentals surpass profit margins then there is no reason for anyone to stay in business. This is one of the reasons why many women have started car boot boutiques. Believe me, most of the women selling clothes from their cars would really like to run clean air-conditioned shops but are forced to settle for roadside strategic markets.
I only found out about the closure of the bar at Ewanrigg when we got there. Fortunately we had packed a picnic basket and a cooler box of drinks. The gardens were looking good and the flame lilies were blooming.
We do have some beautiful places but we desperately need more professional people who will make visitors to this country feel welcome. We need people who will convince tourists that this is a country worth several return trips.
My friend had a wonderful time and is already planning a return trip with his friends and siblings.
We have so many new clubs, restaurants, scenic lodges and hotels that have the potential of making Zimbabwe a destination of choice. We need to tweak our attitudes towards clients, retain the high quality of the food we serve and always remember that the people who pay for our services are our lifeline.
If you run a holiday resort you should start right now to prepare to wow new and old visitors. Other countries are ruthless in their tourism marketing strategies and we do need to take some pointers from those countries that are doing well. Zimbabwe can be the jewel of Africa again but we just have to work hard enough.
Grace Mutandwa is a Media Consultant, and published Author. She can be reached at: