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Monday, 20 August, 2001, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Fresh blow to Zimbabwe tourism
Unrest is increasing as Zimbabwe's economy suffers
Unrest is increasing as Zimbabwe's economy suffers
News that international airlines will only accept hard currency will deal a further blow to the struggling Zimbabwe tourism industry.

British Airways has confirmed to the BBC's World Business Report that it will only accept payment in US dollars or sterling.

Many other airlines have adopted the same policy.

The move is a reflection of waning confidence in the Zimbabwe dollar, whose value has plummeted in recent months.

On the black market, one US dollar buys 300 Zimbabwe dollars, compared with an official fixed rate of 55 Zimbabwe dollars to the US dollar.

Our image has suffered dramatically over the last 18 months

John Smith, managing director of Zimbabwe Sun
Already, the local tourism industry is suffering as regional and international tourists turn their back on the once popular destination.

In 1999, nearly two million people visited Zimbabwe. This figure is now thought to have halved over the past year.

Dramatically worse

If the situation does not get better soon, it could be many years before the tourism industry recovers, John Smith, managing director of Zimbabwe Sun, the largest hotel operator in the country told BBC's World Business Report.

"The downturn really started at the beginning of last year... There has been bad political press coming out of this country... Our image has suffered dramatically over last 18 months," he said.

The Zimbabwe Sun hotel group accounts for about 40% of the hotel beds in the country.

Key economic indicators, 2000
GDP growth: -6.1%
GDP per head: $544
Inflation: 56.6%
Total debt per head: $406
About 18 months ago, the tourism industry was operating at occupancy levels of about 60% to 65%.

The international and regional market accounted for roughly 60% of the tourism industry.

Of this, about two thirds was made up of international tourists and one third of regional tourists.

These two markets have fallen off "dramatically", John Smith said, and it is the smaller operators that are hardest hit.

"This particularly applies to the smaller safari lodges, where the marketing is geared towards the international market, they are having a major problem. Their costs are running away with them and they haven't got the revenue bases to sustain those costs," he said.

Collapsing industry

"If it goes on for more than a year, we will see a lot of the tourism industry actually collapsing and it will be many years before they can revive that part of the industry," he said.

Zimbabwe was once one of Africa's most prosperous countries, its economy fuelled by rich mineral resources and agricultural exports, such as tobacco.

The number of attacks on white-owned farms and other assets has crippled the tobacco and mining sectors.

Together these would usually account for half of all exports.

Zimbabwe's vital export sectors have been crippled by unrest and political interference, starving the country of hard currency income.

John Smith, managing director, Zimbabwe Sun
"These markets have fallen off dramatically"
See also:

23 Aug 01 | Business
Zimbabwe on the verge of collapse
20 Jul 01 | Business
Zimbabwe hit by rising grain prices
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