Will your family forego California-based Disneyland for a new Zimbabwe-based theme park? That’s what Zimbabwe’s struggling tourism industry is hoping. Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi revealed the idea at the UN World Tourism Organization general assembly, which was being co-hosted last week with Zambia near Victoria Falls, renowned as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Zimbabwe’s tourism highlights are natural wonders Victoria Falls, the Zambezi River, the Eastern Highlands, national parks, and the “big seven” of wildlife—buffalo, elephant, rhino, leopard, lion, hippo and crocodile. Now the government plans to park a $300 million theme park on over 2,900 acres of reserved land that neighbors the Falls.
Tourism was at one time one of Zimbabwe’s most profitable industries but a decade of conflict and hyperinflation caused damage and a virtual collapse of the economy. Last month, President Robert Mugabe gained a seventh term in office amid disputed elections. Tourists will be challenged to venture to a country plagued by the human rights record of its President.
Plans revealed by Mzembi include, “the size and the kind of vision that is on Disneyland, including hotels, entertainment parks, restaurants, conferencing facilities.” He believes the country could better leverage the Falls. In addition, the government hopes to create a “free zone” with a banking center that would encourage external customers and plans for expanding the Victoria Falls airport are already underway.
Tourism industry experts that specialize in Africa expressed general opposition to the idea. “People go to Zimbabwe because it actually offers something that is authentically African: they are not going to want to go there for a Mickey Mouse experience. It would be completely inappropriate,” says UK-based tour operator, Chris McIntyre of Expert Africa.
Responses over Twitter were mainly negative or mocking, including the following:
[Images via Wikimedia Commons and the CIA World Factbook.]
Breaking: Leaked picture of Zimbabwe's new Disney World. Designed by Mugabe himself! pic.twitter.com/QMSEAIJa4a
— James Loretz (@Apoc184) August 30, 2013