The Zimbabwe government will be relaxing visa restrictions for Chinese tourists entering the country as of July 1, in an effort to boost inbound tourism.

The new visa regime will see China migrating from a Category C in Zimbabwe’s migration management system, to a Category B – in effect, moving visa requirements from ‘prior to travel’, to required only at port of entry. Category A refers to countries whose nationals are exempt from visa requirements; Category B to those required to obtain visas at the port of entry (on arrival); and Category C to those required to apply for visas prior to travel.

Zimbabwe’s Permanent Secretary of Tourism and Hospitality, Thokozile Chitepo, told Tourism Update that “the relaxation is set to increase tourism arrivals, as many tourists can easily obtain visas. It will also increase the convenience to the travelling public, especially for those that will get visas at the port of entry, as they will not have to go through a lengthy visa application process. In addition, people can decide, at short notice, to visit Zimbabwe – particularly when already visiting the region. Subsequently, that will lead to increased tourism receipts and other benefits to the economy”.

CEO of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), Karigoga Kaseke concurs, telling Tourism Update that “tourism thrives in a more open, accessible and friendly environment, and the visa regime plays a pivotal role in pushing for tourism growth. Easing the visa policy for the Chinese markets will make destination Zimbabwe more competitive and attractive, especially as it competes in the global marketplace. The Chinese market is the world's fastest-growing source market, posting more than 135 million Chinese outbound travellers (2016), and topping the world's international tourism spending on $258b (€222.6b)  (UNWTO – 2017). From that, Zimbabwe only enjoys a fraction of fewer than 15 000 arrivals (2017). The relaxation will result in more travel from China, as currently the visa process for the Chinese tourists was still conditional (Category B) for tourists recommended by a tour operator. Now, there are no conditions to the travelling tourists who now cover business, as they will all get visas at the port of entry. Thus, the relaxation presents an opportunity not only to tourism growth, but other consequent economic benefits that come with it”.

Gavin Rennie, Director of local tour operator Off2Africa adds: “China is a massive source market for all levels of tourism, group and high-end FIT, that Zimbabwe can attract and benefit from. Zimbabwe has a number of outstanding tourist attractions like Victoria Falls, Great Zimbabwe and many wonderful national parks that are abundant with wildlife, and a broad range of accommodation options in each destination to cater for the Chinese traveller.”

The announcement was made during a handover of furniture and equipment to the Department of Immigration and the Zimbabwe Republic Police in Harare last week.

“Easy access to any destination is a major determinant to travel by tourists worldwide. Most destinations are even going a step further by becoming visa free, in order to increase tourists travelling to their destinations; hence this move by Zimbabwe is a step in the right direction to promote increased travel from China and other countries into Zimbabwe, increasing the country’s destination competitiveness. It is also encouraging that this relaxation is not only limited to China but [extends] to 36 other countries announced, including Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Algeria, Turkey and Cuba, among others,” says Kaseke.

The change in the visa regime becomes effective on July 1, “although it has already been implemented on the business delegation that visited Zimbabwe for the Zimbabwe-China Investment Forum”, says Kaseke. “All were issued visas hassle-free at the port of entry. The facility is open for business and leisure travellers.”

Chinese Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Huang Ping, said this decision was made by the Cabinet and announced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in his talks with his counterpart, President Xi Jinping. “This is one of the significant outcomes of President Mnangagwa’s state visit to China early this year,” said Ping. “This policy, upon implementation, will certainly attract more Chinese tourists and investors to Zimbabwe, injecting new impetus to its development. As more Chinese come, there will be a growing demand for better service and management of them in terms of the visa, working and residence permits and other security-related issues arising from there.”

Rennie says: “Now that China has Category B status for visas, Zimbabwe is a far easier destination for Chinese to travel to. Furthermore, air access from China to southern Africa is improving all the time with new carriers connecting the two.”

“According to the World Economic Forum Competitiveness reports, Zimbabwe is ranked number one in the region in terms of safety,” said Chitepo. “Your readers need to take advantage of this peace dividend and send their tourists to Zimbabwe, as they will have memorable experiences,” she told Tourism Update. “This applies to both leisure and business travellers.”

The Secretary concluded: “Following the coming in of the new dispensation, my message is: Zimbabwe is open for business, in line with what our President, His Excellency Emmerson D. Mnangagwa has enunciated. I have been to most of the marketing platforms, (FITUR – Spain, ITB – Berlin, Africa’s Travel Indaba – Durban, We are Africa – Cape Town, and Arabian Travel Market, to mention a few), since I took office in December 2018, and this has been my message to the travel industry. Zimbabwe is ready to receive visitors, and we have put everything in place to ensure that travel is facilitated. I am pleased to say that the response has been encouraging as we have witnessed a phenomenal 48% growth in arrivals during the first quarter of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017. This is attributable to the fact that Zimbabwe is a safe and peaceful destination apart from being extremely attractive.”