x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Game changing for Zimbabwe tourism

Rani Investment is seeking other opportunities in Zimbabwe despite the damage done to the country's tourism industry by political and economic problems.

The Stanley and Livingstone hotel is adjacent to a 2,400-hectare game reserve.
The Stanley and Livingstone hotel is adjacent to a 2,400-hectare game reserve.

Victoria Falls // The sight of what appears to be a splendid country mansion is a welcome surprise after a hot, dusty drive near the town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

The Stanley and Livingstone at Victoria Falls, a Victorian-style boutique hotel, and its adjacent 2,400-hectare game reserve are owned by the Saudi national Sheikh Adel Aujan through his company Rani Investment, which is based in Dubai.

Rani is seeking other opportunities in Zimbabwe, despite the damage done to the country's tourism industry by the country's political and economic problems.

Members of the tourism industry in the landlocked African country say business has started to pick up after the Zimbabwean dollar was abandoned.

Before that, billions were required to buy basic groceries amid hyperinflation. The introduction of a power-sharing government has also helped the sector.

"We are looking at further investments in tourism in Zimbabwe," says Costa Shinya, the general manager of the Stanley and Livingstone at Victoria Falls.

"If we can manage to get more land, we'll look at investing more in Victoria Falls."

Mr Shinya says Rani is also considering investing in Kariba, to the north west. "Right now the [land] prices are slightly below what their true value is."

He says the company may consider a hunting reserve in Zimbabwe, where tour operators say visitors pay tens of thousands of dollars to shoot big game.

Hunting is popular with visitors from the Gulf, the operators say.

Rani's main focus is its juice and beverage division, which makes drinks under brands including Vimto. But the company has other interests in Africa, with several luxury resorts in Mozambique.

In Zimbabwe, Rani is also a major investor in the River Ranch diamond mine.

Stanley and Livingstone has only 16 suites. Rani built and opened the hotel in 1999, which the tourism authority says was the peak of Zimbabwe's booming hotel industry.

From 2000 onwards, the land reform policies of the president Robert Mugabe triggered a sharp decline in tourism, causing thousands of job losses.

"We used to have a very strong British market, mostly honeymooners, and we did see a decline in the arrivals after the country started getting bad press,and even had travel warnings," Mr Shinya says.

"I think since those have been lifted and since we changed to multiple currency, we've started seeing a comeback."

Mr Shinya says the hotel reduced its rates substantially amid the decline, now charging about US$400 (Dh1,469) for a room. The main market for the hotel is now the US.

He says the game reserve, home to animals including the rare black rhinoceros and elephants, regularly sells animals such as zebra and buffalo. Zimbabwe's government is trying to revive its tourism industry, hoping it will contribute $3 billion a year and a make up 15 per cent of its GDP by 2015.

Mr Shinya is optimistic the industry will grow.

"We have been approached by a lot of European tour operators that had removed us. We all expect next year to be positive."

Some travel agents say they are thinking of starting tours in Zimbabwe.

"It all depends on the stability of the political situation," said Freddy Magdalani, a manager at the travel agency Ocean Map, based in London. Mr Magdalani said the agency had ruled out selling packages to Zimbabwe in the past.

"Obviously it was difficult to sell. I'm keen to sell Zimbabwe if the situation remains stable."

But he said he was likely to wait until the outcome of the election next year and more evidence of stability before offering the packages.