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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: International Project Coordinator / Account Coordinator

    Circa £26,500 DOE: Guru Careers: An International Project Coordinator / Accoun...

    Guru Careers: Plumber / Maintenance Operator

    £25k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Plumber / Mainten...

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Network Executive - Adrenalin Sports - OTE £21,000

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for an exciting...

    Day In a Page

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks