The Zimbabwean government on Thursday announced a new visa regime that relaxes visa controls or tourists travelling in groups from China and 36 other countries who can now obtain visa on arrival.
The new visa regime comes into force with immediate effect, Zimbabwean immigration officials said.
China has been on category C of Zimbabwe’s visa regime, which requires foreign nationals to apply for and obtain visas prior to their travel.
However, under the new visa regime, Chinese tourists travelling in groups and cleared by tour operators and travel agencies in China qualify to obtain visa on arrival, principal director for the Department of Immigration Clemence Masango told journalists at a press conference in Harare.
He said Chinese business people and other Chinese citizens travelling to Zimbabwe as individuals will still need to apply for visas prior to the travel.
Zimbabwe received 6,000 Chinese tourists in 2015, a miserable figure compared to 43,000 that visited neighboring Botswana, 65,000 for Zambia and 158,000 for South Africa, according to Zimbabwe Tourism Authority Chief Executive Karikoga Kaseke.
“The new visa regime on its own will not generate tourism for Zimbabwe. It should be supported by a lot of other activities. We need to be aggressive and market this destination so that Chinese tourists will increase in terms of arrivals in this country,” Kaseke said.
“We must be active in the Chinese market so that Zimbabwe is known,” he added.
Zimbabwe boasts some of the continent’s best tourism sites, including the Victoria Falls and the Great Zimbabwe ruins.
But the number of foreign tourists did not match its rich tourist resources. Apart from Western sanctions, the rigorous visa rules are blamed for deterring potential tourists.
Masango said the new visa regime was meant to facilitate free movement of people, and make Zimbabwe a more favourable and accessible destination.
Among countries whose nationals are now eligible to obtain visa on entry include Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Algeria, Turkey and Cuba.
Under the new visa regime, two remaining countries, Angola and Madagascar, were upgraded to category A, completing Zimbabwe’s process of removing visa controls for all Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries.
This means that all SADC nationals no longer require visas to enter Zimbabwe.