Tourism boosts Zimbabwe’s weak economy

Zimbabwe’s tourism industry earned about 13% of the impoverished state’s gross domestic product in 2010 and should grow an average 6,9% annually over the next decade, a minister said on Monday.

Zimbabwe, isolated and shunned by the West for suspected human rights abuses under President Robert Mugabe, has made steady gains in tourism ever since a unity government formed in 2009 brought a measure of stability.

“I have set a … $5-billion revenue target, five-million arrivals by 2015, with the current peace and stability prevailing in our country and our ability to spin a more positive image of ourselves as preconditions,” Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Walter Mzembi wrote in the government controlled Herald newspaper.

Tourism earnings jumped 47% last year to $770-million while the number of visitors rose 15% to 2,3-million, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority told Reuters separately.

Tourism collapsed after Mugabe began a forcible take-over of white-owned farms about a decade ago. Political violence and an economic meltdown kept tourists away from the country’s nature preserves and its gateway to the Victoria Falls.

Zimbabwe’s economy expanded for the first time in 2009 under the unity government led by Mugabe and rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who leads the Movement for Democratic Change.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti, an MDC member, told Reuters in January he expects the economy to grow by about 8% to 15% in 2011 with agriculture, mining and tourism seen as key industries. He estimated GDP at $6-billion.

Mugabe is pressing for an election this year, before agreed democratic reforms are complete, a move that Biti says could lead to a bloodbath and renewed economic collapse. — Reuters

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