Call to put tourism spotlight on Eastern Highlands

Chimanimani district, one of the countrys major tourist attractions in Manicaland is being neglected by tourism marketing strategies, despite the area offering historical and scenic attractions, some of which are ranked highly the world over.

The district, home to the mysterious Chimanimani mountains, Nyanyadzi hot springs, Bridal Veil Falls, Pork Pie Mountains and the famous longest suspension bridge in Zimbabwe, Birchenough Bridge, has not been on an equal footing with other tourist attractions in the country – such as Kariba, Great Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls. If fully exploited, the area has great potential to take the countrys tourism to greater heights.

The tourism sector as a whole has taken a nose-dive during the past decade, with state-sponsored violence, human rights abuses, general economic collapse, and the controversial land reform combining to deter tourists in large numbers.

Before the 2000 elections, we used to have lots of foreign tourists visiting local attractions such as Birchenough Bridge and the hot springs. Now the majority of our tourists are locals, most of whom are not willing to pay for sightseeing at the resorts, said Zakeu Nhachi, the deputy chair of the Chimanimani rural district council.

Nhachi, who is also councillor for ward 20, said the reduction in tourist arrivals notably from North America, Germany, Britain and Sweden had taken a toll on the councils coffers. Council runs the Nyanyadzi hot springs and a couple of lodges in the district. But we hardly get any revenue from them, he said.

Chimanimani Mountains, located 150 km from Mutare, are a series of parallel ridges forming a massive barrier of jagged peaks and deep ravines along the Zimbabwes border with Mozambique. The mountains are composed mostly of sandstone, and distinguished by huge volcanic peaks. The peaks stretch for 50 km and the main plateau reaches a height of 2,440 m, making this destination popular for hiking, rock climbing, camping and birding.

Holistic approach

If the tourism industry is to be revived in the district, a holistic approach is required. We need to put places like Chimanimani Mountains, Birchenough Bridge and the Bridal Veil Falls in the international spotlight. The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority can assist in the marketing of such places, said Clement Moyo of the Chimanimani Publicity Association.

The Bridal Veil Falls are a popular hiking spot with water also plunging a staggering 762 metres down the falls. Tourists in search of scenic views can also visit the nearby Chirundu forest, home to many rare trees species including cycads and strelitzias.The 76-year-old suspended steel Birchenough Bridge, 330 metres long, 10 metres wide and 20 metres above Save River bed, was built at a cost of $270 000 by Italian engineers. It was named in honour of Sir Henry Birchenough, the president of the British South Africa Company from 1925 to 1937.

Moyo said apart from sorting out the countrys politics, there was also a need to develop infrastructure at scenic attractions to make the area more tourist friendly, while at the same time keeping the attraction areas as natural as possible.

Rustic appeal

The rustic nature of the environment is what tourists come to experience. If you take away that and urbanize the area through extensive infrastructure, it loses its appeal with both local and foreign tourists. Infrastructure development at tourist sites is a necessary requirement but it should not be too excessive, concurred, Gibson Tedious who runs White Horse Lodge in the Vumba.

He stressed that safety features, such as touristfriendly railings to prevent an unwary tourist from tumbling down deep gorges and cliff faces, were absolutely necessary. The Zimbabwe government has been frantically trying to resuscitate the tourism industry, one of the countrys major foreign currency earners, through numerous policies, including the Look East policy.

The Zanu (PF) component in the inclusive government is insisting on Eastern markets – despite ample evidence that the policy is not reaping rewards for companies in the industry.

Post published in: Travel

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