Boost for Zimbabwe tourism as US lifts travel warnings

HARARE – The United States (US) has lifted crippling travel warnings slapped on Zimbabwe nine years ago, Harare tourism officials said Thursday.

Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) chief executive Karikoga Kaseke told reporters that travel warnings officially lifted on April 8 2009.

Kaseke said the decision to lift the warnings followed months of months of discussions between the ZTA and US embassy officials in Harare who in turn advised President Barrack Obama’s administration to give the all clear to US nationals wishing to visit the southern African country.

“It is the best thing that has happened to us,” said Kaseke, who spoke told reporters after a meeting at the ZTA offices with US consul in Harare, James Jimenez.

There was no immediate confirmation by the US mission the claims by Kaseke that would represent a small but positive shift in relations between Washington and Harare.

In addition to regular travel warnings, the US and its Western allies also cut direct support to the Harare and imposed visa and financial sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle as punishment for failure to uphold democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

The sanctions against Mugabe and his top lieutenants remain in place and direct financial aid also stays blocked.

The US and the European Union have said they want a unity government formed by Mugabe and longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai last February to implement genuine and comprehensive political and economic reforms before they can lift sanctions and provide direct support to Harare

But the lifting of travel warnings to Zimbabwe will assist the country’s once vibrant tourism sector rebound after years of decline due to political violence and humanitarian crisis that scared away visitors.

The US and rich Western countries have been the traditional source market for Zimbabwe’s tourism sector even after Mugabe’s government promoted a new ‘Look East’ policy after his quarrel with America and Europe.

Kaseke expressed hope that the lifting of US travel warnings would influence other Western nations to follow suit.

“There will be no more warnings against US citizens travelling to Zimbabwe but just guidance …. and we hope we will see more of these warnings being lifted,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s new unity government between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has placed the tourism industry at the core of its efforts to turnaround the economy after years of a political stalemate and economic decline affected arrivals from Western countries.

However, the country faces major challenges in refurbishing airports, roads, telecommunications, hotels and other related infrastructure, as well as repairing the tainted image before arrivals can hit South Africa’s levels of 11 million. – ZimOnline