Tourism is one of the great drivers of economic growth worldwide. According to the U.S. Travel Association, the average international tourist in the United States spends $4,300, and those tourist dollars directly support 1.2 million jobs. Tourism is also a big growth sector in sub-Saharan Africa. Contributing 94.3 billion dollars to the region’s economy in 2012, travel and tourism as a part of the region’s GDP is expected to increase by 5.1 percent over the next 10 years through much needed economic expansion and job creation. If managed with foresight and attention, travel and tourism will promote wildlife conservation, local handicraft skills, and cultural preservation.
When discussing Zimbabwe, most Americans equate the word ‘tourism’ first and foremost with one thing: Victoria Falls. The Falls, which form part of the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, will be under the spotlight in August when the two nations host the 20th United Nations World Tourism Organization (UN WTO) General Assembly meeting. One of the seven wonders of the natural world, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and on many 'bucket lists,' Victoria Falls is breathtaking. Over 2.22 million international tourists are expected in Zimbabwe next year, most at least stopping a day at Victoria Falls; one third will likely be American.
With American tourist visits on an upward trend, the U.S. ambassadors to Zimbabwe and Zambia, Bruce Wharton and Mark Storella, strapped on bike helmets last month to check out firsthand the opportunities and growth potential of tourism on both sides of this iconic landmark. The diplomats’ delegation of cyclists included young leaders active on social media and Youth Ambassadors, who posted updates on Twitter and Facebook during the bike ride. On the Zambian side, Miss USA 2012 Nana Meriwether also jumped on a bicycle for a day of activities, including leading a volleyball clinic for girls at a Livingstone school.
The ambassadors' 'Bike Across Borders' trip to the sister cities of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Livingstone, Zambia included stops along the way to see U.S. government projects, national parks, and local chiefs. One of the ambassadors' key messages was the importance of an improved business climate to attract private investment. The Ambassadors cycled through the border crossing, learned about anti-poaching efforts, and toured the Livingstone Museum -- all activities that promote education and sustainable livelihoods through tourism.
About the Author: Sharon Hudson-Dean serves as Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe.