The Great Undiscovered

I’m delighted to note that Wilderness Safaris have just (re)opened Linkwasha Camp in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.

Delighted because I know Wilderness of old – they’ve been in Zimbabwe for 18 years now, and their reputation precedes them. To them add the success of eco-conscious African Bush Camps, a much smaller and equally proven outfit. I’m well aware of how important the work of both has been in terms of helping provide for wild Zimbabwe’s key stakeholders: namely, local communities and the wildlife these communities help conserve.

However, whatever the first-rate work of the likes of Wilderness and African Bush Camps, Zimbabwe’s international reputation has, until recently, made it a no-go area, travellers either officially warned off it by their respective countries or affected by what they see and here in the news. The knock-on effect is such that it has featured on travel operators’ books as a frontier destination, one suited to the few, the hardy, the adventure friendly.

Things, of course, are so much more complicated – and positive. Zimbabwe has long been an industry secret. Wilderness Safaris operates out of both Hwange and Mana Pools National Park, owns three other eco-camps – Little Makalolo, Davison’s and Ruckomechi – and is absolutely transparent in terms of how it spends the money it makes. There’s plenty of evidence to support the fact that the type of low volume tourism it champions is impacting positively in all the right places: locally, in the name of community, conservation, commerce and culture. Indeed, the success of African Bush Camp’s Somalisia and Somalisia Acacia, operating in direct competition with Wilderness, indicates a growing and vibrant market.

Thankfully, this positive counter-narrative’s beginning to get real traction. As Wilderness’s Roberto Viviani says, ‘tourism is on the up and the local people are enjoying the return of visitors.’ The ongoing and planned for ‘upgrade and expansion’ projects at Victoria Falls airport makes for much smoother, more direct travel options. As indicated by the overwhelmingly positive response to – and interest in – Linkwasha, there’s been something of a sea change in international perception vis-a-vis travelling in Zimbabwe. People are interested, and for all the right reasons.

So, a call to travelling action. Zimbabwe. Go, please. As well as being unlike anywhere else on our books, it’s a country crying out for international travel support, the money it makes from tourism absolutely vital to the wellbeing of its many rural communities. It’s enormously interesting and, given the fact of its hidden gem status, great value for money. Try it.

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