Tourist arrivals from Europe increased by 29 percent in the first quarter of 2017, compared to the same period last year, according to the latest Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA)'s tourism performance report.
The resurgence in tourist numbers from Europe could mark a turning point for the country's tourism sector, whose fortunes had faltered after years of decline following bad publicity the country routinely attracts due to human rights violations and economic chaos unleashed by disruptive land seizures.
The land reform programme destabilised the tourism sector, which had been growing on the strength of fast developing private game sanctuaries on white-owned farms that were targeted for seizure.
The upheavals on the farms, marked by serious human rights abuses when some of the white farmers were murdered, combined with a series of violent elections since 2000, resulted in thousands of European tourists turning their backs on Zimbabwe.
The Europeans, however, appear to be trickling back with numbers having increased to 35 381 during the first quarter of this year, from 27 433 during the same period the previous year. The bulk of the visitors came from the United Kingdom, which saw a 132 percent jump in numbers followed by France which accounted for 76 percent of arrivals.
Germany visitors accounted for eight percent.
"The increase in European arrivals is a positive development considering the fact that this region closed with an 18 percent decline in 2016. The European market share stood at seven percent and is second only to Africa, thus Europe, remains the greatest overseas market for the country," said ZTA.
ZTA has admitted that "the country still has a long way to go in terms of attracting arrivals from this market".
Zimbabwe is also failing to charm tourists from the lucrative Asian market.
Visitor numbers from the Asian market declined by four percent during the first quarter to 13 385, from 14 004 visitors during the same period in 2016.
Tourist numbers from China dropped by 43 percent from 4 043 to 1 413. Some of the few markets that registered growth include Malaysia and Pakistan at 61 percent and 78 percent respectively.
Although the ZTA attributed the decline to the poor economic performance in China during the first three months of the year, South Africa curiously recorded a massive increase in visitors from Asia, especially China.
For the first two months of 2017, South Africa registered 52 319 Asian visitors of which 21 137 were Chinese.
Zimbabwe has struggled to tap into the Asian giant's growing middle class which is now China's biggest spender both domestically and abroad.
In 2016, China recorded at least 280 million outbound tourists and the figure is expected to grow to 600 million per year by 2020.
Arrivals from the Americas increased three percent to 23 297 during the first quarter, from 22 620 during the same period the previous year.
Regionally, while South Africa continues to dominate, arrivals from that country dropped 27 percent during the first quarter to 84 234, from 115 776 during the same period last year.
"The stagnation in arrivals from South Africa is of major concern as this is Zimbabwe's major market," said ZTA.
It recommended that attention should be given to refurbishment of facilities, especially in Beitbridge.
"There is also need to seriously look at upgrading roads especially the Harare-Beitbridge highway," ZTA also said.