TO have one of the seven wonders of the world on your doorstep is a very big deal in international tourism, so it’s little wonder that Victoria Falls makes Zimbabwe a prime destination for countless adventurous visitors. It also tops the bucket list of vast numbers of wealthy baby boomers whose wish is to experience the ‘smoke that thunders’ before they become too old to travel.
In the 1990s tourism was Zimbabwe’s fastest-growing industry, and after hosting the All Africa Games in 1995, Zim saw a 35% increase in international tourist arrivals. The decline following political turmoil in 2000 put a handbrake on many operators, and resulted in the demise of others.
At the annual Tourism Achievers Awards last week at Cresta Lodge’s Sango conference centre, it became clear that the slough of despond miring tourism for the last 18 years is drying up; highly motivated operators and those just keeping their heads above water, now have the incentive to achieve their dreams, and make Zimbabwe once again the world’s top tourist destination.
Awards this year, judged by past presidents of ZCT (Zimbabwe Council for Tourism) were based on effort and achievement, and presented at an elegant dinner party sponsored by Havergal Marketing, at Cresta Lodge. As Havergal’s Tarryn Sugden welcomed guests, government ministers and tourism operators to the event, a thunder storm broke and her words were all but drowned out by the sound of rain beating down on the roof of the conference centre. Rain is always welcome at this time of the year, and we filed happily into the dining area, where tables were beautifully set with sparkling glasses, silverware and pretty floral arrangements.
The lights were dimmed and the Rusike Brothers set the scene for a very special evening. At this stage I could have taken to the dance floor with my partner, and surrendered to the sweet sounds of the Rusike Brothers, but significant events were about to take place and yet to enjoy was a four course meal, overseen by Brian Ndlovu, Group Head Chef of Cresta Hotels.
Chef Brian, a graduate of Bulawayo’s School of Hospitality and Tourism, spent four years at Elephant Hills Hotel, before moving to Victoria Falls Safari Lodge where he remained from 1996 to 2012, before transferring to the Cresta Group, based in Harare. Trained in the great culinary tradition of French cuisine, Chef Brian is at his best when preparing dishes a la carte.
Prettily plated hors d’oeuvres were salmon and sour cream rillettes, goat’s cheese and mushroom tart, celery remoulade and smoked beef fillet with green horseradish. Roast tomato soup served a la mode in a coffee cup was full of flavour, while the main course, chermoula (North African marinade using coriander, cumin and paprika) chicken breast served with potatoes, roast root veg and turmeric and pineapple cream, looked and tasted beautiful.Dessert of nut praline ice cream, chocolate mousse tuile with caramelised popcorn and strawberry coulis was a work of art.
When off duty, Chef Brian enjoy’s his wife’s cooking, but if he ventures into his kitchen at home, he’ll most likely cook up a fragrant lamb curry, his current favourite dish.
When the long-awaited awards were finally announced, Nigel Frost, group operations and financial director of the Africa Albida Tourism Group, emerged as Tourism Personality of the Year. Frost, a reserved individual content to work behind the scenes,persisted over a period of four years in persuading authorities to reverse the backdating of VAT on hospitality billings. This brought about savings to many operators, and saved others from insolvency.
Collen Sibanda, from the Chimanimani Tourist Association, came up to receive an award for Achievement in Environmental Awareness and Action. Thanks to Sibanda and his colleagues, steps are being taken to prevent the illegal and destructive mining activities taking place in Chimanimani National Park, one of the most beautiful in the world. National parks being our heritage, and the basis of our social and economic well-being, must be preserved for generations to come.
An award for services to the ZCT was given to Paul Matamisa, CEO of the Zimbabwe Council of Tourism. When not waging a war of attrition against problems affecting travel and tourism in Zimbabwe, he travels to Macheke, where his wife, Pedia Moyo, is farming maize and soya beans.
Space does not permit a description of the winners of the 16 remaining rewards or of the generous prizes donated by hotels and tourism operators to lucky raffle winners, but mention must be made of the inspiring addresses given by the Minister of Tourism and Hospitality, the Honourable Prisca Mupfumira, and Tich Hwingwiri, President of ZCT. We can now look forward to a flourishing and sustainable tourism industry, preserving resources and delighting generations to come. – A Matter of Taste with Charlotte Malakoff
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