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North Korea soccer team cancels Zimbabwe stay

Mugabe government's plans to reap benefits from 2010 soccer World Cup are not materializing.

Meanwhile, even hotels that have invested in renovations are likely to be given a wide berth by tourists. First of all the numbers of international tourists are fewer than what the enthusiastic South Africans forecast. Second, most are attending the World Cup and then returning home.

Third, Zimbabwe generally is suffering from the bad publicity that followed electoral violence in 2008 and persistent misrule. Victoria Falls hotels enjoy good occupancy rates of about 70 percent, but the Eastern Highlands hotels on the other side of the country have bookings of only 30 percent of capacity, according to Emmanuel Fundira, head of the Zimbabwe Council of Tourism.

Ironically there has been a mini-boom of  “soccer refugees” — South Africans avoiding what they expect will be crowds, traffic jams and other annoyances in South Africa’s teeming cities, most notably Johannesburg, where the finals will be held.

South Africa has a reputation for crime and this week the Zimbabwe police announced they were setting up a command center that would contribute to regional safety and security.

They fear an influx of a different kind of tourist — fraudsters, thieves and vehicle hijackers. These are a familiar phenomena in South Africa but less well known in Zimbabwe.

“As the World Cup draws near,” police spokesman Chief Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka said, “we are cognizant of the fact that criminals might want to take advantage and pounce on tourists. As such there will be total increased visibility countrywide.”

One thing that will deter criminals as well as tourists who use the road route to Zimbabwe is the chaos at the Beitbridge border post with South Africa. For years visitors and returning residents have complained of congestion, hawkers, crime and poor administration on the Zimbabwe side. On the other hand, Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, is only an hour-and-a-half flight from Johannesburg. And the flight is much more relaxed.

What is certain is that Zimbabwe’s authorities are likely to be disappointed in the final tourism revenues while many of those who do come will no doubt be pleasantly surprised by the scenery and hospitality they experience.