A leading Chinese travel agent said here on Monday that Zimbabwe needs to develop its tourism facilities to cater for the expected high number of Chinese tourists in the next few years.
Zimbabwe International Travel & Tours chief executive, Steve Ke Zhao, told Xinhua in an interview that many Chinese were eager to visit Zimbabwe and Africa to explore its original and unparalleled tourist products.
"We are getting a lot of enquiries from Chinese citizens who, after getting tired of seeing Europe and Asia, now want to come and see Zimbabwe and Africa," said Zhao, whose company provides service to more than half of the Chinese tourists coming into Zimbabwe.
Zhao said many Chinese were now interested in coming to Zimbabwe following the Approved Destination Status (ADS) granted to the country by China in 2004, and also the recently-held Sino- Africa summit.
He said the summit presented Africa with a great opportunity to market itself to China.
With millions of Chinese people flying to international destinations every year, there was great scope for Zimbabwe to tap into the vast Asian market, he added.
Zhao, who has been in the travel business in Zimbabwe for the past three years, said Africa's greatest advantage is that its flora and fauna cannot be found in any other continent.
"The nature of Africa's world is more original. Its tradition and heritage is what really attracts Chinese people," he said.
Zhao said Zimbabwe's tourism products sell well in China but bemoaned the lack of an efficient transport system for easy movement of people.
He said Air Zimbabwe's introduction of direct flights to China was a welcome development, but indicated that more internal flights to other tourist attractions such as Kariba and Great Zimbabwe should be introduced.
"There are lots of beautiful places in Zimbabwe which, unfortunately, cannot be accessed by air. We have to take tourists say, to Great Zimbabwe, and bring them back to Harare for a flight to Victoria Falls. This does not work well for the tourism sector in this country. There is need for interconnectivity," Zhao said.
He also bemoaned insufficient hotel facilities in the country, and called for an improvement in the area. He said Zimbabwe should utilize this time when the Chinese were not yet flocking in large numbers to prepare its accommodation facilities.
"It's just not good to have less than 3,000 beds in Victoria Falls, home to one of the world's natural wonders," Zhao said.
He said Zimbabwe's tourism industry was not yet ready to handle Chinese tourists especially in terms of food. "The culture and language of the two countries are diverse. Education is needed on both sides and I am glad the Government of Zimbabwe has started a program to train Zimbabweans in the Chinese language," he said.
Tour manager for the company Edgar Sanyanga said 95 percent of their business originated from the international market and 5 percent from locals.
He said the hard economic conditions prevailing in the country had seen many local people reducing international travel. Sanyanga said there was however need for aggressive marketing of China in Zimbabwe as a credible tourist and business destination.
There has been a considerable increase in Chinese tourists coming into Zimbabwe in recent years owing to government's deepening of relations with the Asian country under its "Look East" policy.
The Chinese company has so far employed 18 local people. Some of them serve as managers in charge of various departments while three Chinese work as tourist guides.
With the growing number of Chinese visiting Zimbabwe, his company will expand and hire more local people, Zhao said, adding that he came to Zimbabwe also as a tourist a decade ago, and started his business in catering sector.
(Xinhua News Agency November 28, 2006)