Simon Calder: Should tourists now return to Zimbabwe?

Two months into the year, and the language used by some in the travel industry is open to interpretation. I deduce that "We're a little down on last year" actually means "We're a lot down on last year". "Promising" translates as "We took a booking last week", while "There's definitely a groundswell of interest" decodes as "We haven't taken a booking all year". And if someone describes business as "Quite encouraging", you can probably conclude they are en route to administration.

If it's grim up here in the Northern Hemisphere, fly 70 degrees south and 30 degrees east to Harare, to see just how lousy life can be. Today, for the first time in more than a decade, The Independent Traveller is running a story on the wretched country of Zimbabwe.

"Welcome to Zimbabwe – now in its 150 millionth year": that was how the nation was first promoted after the civil war ended. Before Robert Mugabe's regime began to slide into despotism and to extinguish human rights, the country formerly known as Rhodesia enjoyed a spell as one of the most beguiling nations in Africa. I was lucky enough to visit twice in the 1990s. After exploring the Save region, close to the Mozambique border – off-limits during the insurrection against white rule – I wrote of the "openness, generosity and sheer good humour of life" I found.

Today, good humour has been eradicated along with hope, as Mugabe's thugs accelerate the rot that the president began. The benighted Zimbabwean people must scrape a living in an economy that has been plundered and wrecked as the West – and South Africa – look on.

How could anyone contemplate going on holiday to Zimbabwe, particularly when bringing in hard currency could help to prop up the despicable regime? And how could a newspaper committed to human rights suggest that you do?

Travel and politics are uncomfortable companions. The one success story of Britain's mainstream tourist industry this summer is likely to send more than two million of us to Turkey – a country that has oppressed its Kurdish people. Pretty soon in the 21st century, China – which seems to be doing its best to stifle Tibetan culture and trample on political dissent at home – will take over from France as the world's leading tourist destination. And Cuba, featured (yet again) on page 19 of this edition, is hardly a bastion of free speech and fair elections.

Yet we intend to continue to cover travel to all these destinations. You might see that as pragmatism: there are only so many stories that can be written about Scandinavia. But it also reflects the reality that these are the places to which Independent readers travel. Our commitment is to inspire, entertain and to inform travellers.

So where do we draw the line? At Burma: a decade ago, the democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, called for a tourism boycott until civilian rule is restored, saying "Burma will be here for many years, so visit us later". Visiting now is tantamount to condoning the regime.

Back to Zimbabwe. For the first time in a decade, the international community is seeking to re-engage with the Zimbabwe government, though with deep reservations about Mugabe's commitment to power-sharing. As Jeremy Laurance's fascinating story reveals, the human and indeed animal populations of Zimbabwe are desperate for overseas visitors in order to survive.

In any location with an oppressive government, trying to spend your cash to the maximum benefit of the people is always a good plan, but however careful you are about paying the lodge owners direct and tipping staff well, the regime is likely to get its hands on some of your spending money. But better that than the national parks are allowed to perish, destroying the future for tourism in Zimbabwe as surely as Mugabe is destroying the present.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?