Zimbabwe: Tourvest to Increase Investment

Harare — SOUTH African tourism group Tourvest has developed a new project in Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls and is still exploring opportunities for new developments in the country.

The company, which in 2008 indicated that it would increase its investment in tourism facilities at Victoria Falls once there was peace and stability in what was then a crisis-torn country, has developed a US$1 million luxury, tented camp in its concession in the Victoria Falls National Park, which has already enjoyed full bookings since opening on July 6.

The company's new Elephant Camp, with a low ecological impact, is in a concession awarded to Wild Horizons Zimbabwe for 10 years.

Wild Horizons is a division of Tourvest Products.

The Wild Horizons wildlife sanctuary, established as a trust fund to benefit a number of conservation projects, had helped to translocate zebra, giraffe, wildebeest and impala on to the concession which, Tourvest chief executive Gary Elmes said, had been "heavily impacted by poachers". He said other animals on the concession included buffalo, kudu, waterbuck and warthog.

Elmes told the South African market recently that although there were comparatively few tourists coming into Zimbabwe, the company was exploring new opportunities for expansion.

He said there had been a 50 percent increase in the number of foreign tourists, mostly from Asia, the UK and US, visiting Victoria Falls in the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year.

Noticeably, he said, there was also an increase in South Africans spending time in the resort during the just-ended Soccer World Cup, mostly arriving by car.

Tourvest's Zimbabwean investments have so far been confined to Victoria Falls and its environs, where it has two guest lodges, a safari business, white water rafting, swings across a gorge and two restaurants.

Despite a downturn in the tourism and hospitality market, which had been affected by low traffic from key markets due to the global economic crisis as well as domestic political upheavals and an unprecedented economic crisis, Tourvest's business development director, Khehla Mthembu, had said during the group's presentation of its growth plans over a year ago that an upturn was expected soon.

Tourvest is 51,3 percent owned by Guma, 30,54 percent by Old Mutual private equity, 5,19 percent by management and 13,24 percent by the Industrial Development Corporation.

Tourvest is already the largest integrated tourism group in South Africa and has recently been entering a growth phase.

The company is also looking at opportunities to increase its investments in Victoria Falls itself and in Botswana and Zambia.

Zimbabwe's tourism industry has been recently on the mend after a number of key source markets, including the US, lifted travel warnings on the country.

In 2003 Zimbabwe adopted a hopeless Look-East policy, targeting such countries as China, in reaction to hostile perception on the country due to a chaotic land reform as well as a political and economic crisis that triggered widespread commodity and cash shortages.

Major international card firms withdrew from the country due to a misalignment in the exchange rate caused by hyperinflation in the crisis-torn economy.

The companies included Visa International, Mas-terCard, Diners and Maestro and American Express (AMEX).

Some of them have returned after stability in the country following dollarisation last year.

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