The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has ranked Zimbabwe as one of the top 30 countries that have made major efforts to reduce travel restrictions and allow free movement of tourists in the past seven years.
In its 2015 Visa Openness Report released last week, the 157-member UNWTO, ranked Zimbabwe number 29 out of the top 54 member countries deemed to have made significant progress in relaxing tourist restrictions.
“Overall, 54 destinations significantly facilitated travel for citizens of 30 or more countries by changing their visa policies from visa required to eVisa, visa on arrival, or no visa required,” the UNWTO said.
“These 54 destinations took a total of 6 357 individual measures, presenting 86 percent of all improvements made between 2010 and 2015.
‘‘This demonstrates that destinations, when reviewing their visa policies, tend to thoroughly review and introduce changes.”
According to the report, Zimbabwe implemented a total of 117 reforms that made it easy for tourists to visit the country during the period.
At number one was the island country of Niue with 195 reforms followed by Micronesia, Palau, Djibouti and the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan in the top five.
Mozambique, which was at number seven with 189 improvements was the top ranked African country with Guinea-Bissau, Togo, Cape Verde, Rwanda, Mali, Mauritania, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania also among top African reformers.
The UNTWO said the reforms led to an improvement to the world’s average openness in the period.
“Prioritising travel facilitation is central to stimulating economic growth and job creation through tourism. We are pleased to see that a growing number of governments around the world think likewise” said UNWTO secretary-general, Taleb Rifai.
“UNWTO recommends destinations to focus in particular in a stronger segmentation of travellers, in improving visa application processes and entry procedures, in making use of regional integration opportunities, and last but not least, on providing precise and accessible information for tourists.”
The UNWTO hopes that increasing openness will help the number of international tourist arrivals grow to around 1.8 billion annually by 2030.
Zimbabwe’s Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, Walter Mzembi has on several occasions called for the lifting of visa requirements.
Such a move, he has argued, would allow the country to achieve its target of attracting five million tourists and achieving a $5 billion income for the industry by the year 2020.
Last year, the country relaxed the visa regime for Chinese tourists who are now allowed to get visas on arrival instead of applying for them while in their homeland.
In advocating scrapping of the visa, Minister Mzembi quotes the biblical prophet, Isaiah who encouraged nations to keep their gates open to foreigners if ever they intend to cash in on the visitors wealth.
Hostile western media has battered Zimbabwe’s image over the years, choking efforts to boost tourist arrivals.
But the industry has largely been resilient, and is continuing to defy the odds.