Zimbabwe was one of Africa’s favourite safari destinations up until early in 2000 when Mugabe took revenge on the population for turning him down in a referendum (in reality the rot had set in a few years earlier but that’s another story).
What the Zimbabwean government has actually done since then and how the media have chronicled events is on record. Take a look at "The Zimbabwe Situation" for the latest.
The result of these shenanigans however has been the effective destruction of a buoyant economy of which the safari industry was a small but valuable component.
In the years since 2000, despite very real hassles and regular travel advisories against visiting Zimbabwe from many quarters we and a small group of other specialist travel companies has continued to send a steady stream of clients on safari.
- Our roots are African and so for as long as we have partners, friends and colleagues with a common hope in Zimbabwe we’re going to continue encouraging people to visit.
- The only reason why we won’t serve clients in Zimbabwe is if it gets dangerous or becomes illegal.
- So whilst the media and politicians carry on with their business we’re still inviting enquiries for safaris in Zimbabwe.
Travel Warnings and Advisories
All countries have the equivalent of a “foreign office” that provides citizens with travel advice (e.g. the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for British Citizens, the State Department for American citizens, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Travel for Australians etc.).
Specific travel warnings, or “advisories” are issued from time to time and they vary in severity from something like “against all travel” to “against all but essential travel to specific parts”.
- For example Somalia is generally regarded as unsafe and most foreign offices warn against travel under any circumstances.
- On another level Kenya had a warning against “non-essential travel” to “specific areas” after elections in 2007.
- In the case of Zimbabwe, upgraded warnings against “all travel” were issued in anticipation of election violence at the end of June 2008. During 2009 we saw many of these warnings relax.
Our company policy is simple – “adequate travel insurance” is a “condition of carriage”, we don’t provide it and we don’t specify what it must include.
Quite simply it’s the client’s responsibility. Clients who travel with us should look into the actual detail of their policies – a matter between them and their travel insurers.
In the case of advisories and travel warnings, if a person travels to an area against official advice then they could be putting their travel insurance cover at risk by not taking “reasonable care”.
Typically if a client needs to claim in respect of a cause which was the reason why they were advised against travel in the first place (e.g. medical treatment following civil disturbance) then the travel insurer could decline the claim.
In context, most policies include a war and associated risks exclusion clause (including civil disturbance, riot) which would apply to all sections of the travel policy and would apply regardless of whether a travel warning was in place or not.
If a person travels with a travel warning in place and makes an unrelated claim (e.g. lost camera) then the insurer should deal with the claim because travelling against the advice doesn’t necessarily invalidate the policy as a whole. Once again, clients should check the detail.
If a travel warning comes into effect after a booking is confirmed and just before travel and the client heeds the advice and decides not to travel, then whether or not they can claim for cancellation under travel insurance will depend on the definition of cancellation in the policy.
Most policies cover cancellation due to specified reasons, for example illness (or illness of a travelling member, close relative), redundancy, jury service, burglary. In these cases, cancellation due to advice "not to travel" would not normally, but could be covered.
Our experience through some troubled years particularly in Zimbabwe and Kenya is that people have continued to travel despite travel warnings and not run into problems.
There’s not a single report of any tourist having come to grief since the election problems in Kenya at the end of 2007 and zero tourists in the last 11 years of trouble in Zimbabwe having been affected either. (Trade associations like ATTA would have records and the media would certainly have picked up on any cases.)
In the case of Kenya we believe the travel warning applied in January 2008 was more a political tool to put pressure on the Kenyan leadership than genuine advice. (If not, then it was a serious over-reaction that practically wrecked their safari industry for the first part of the year). We say it was a political tool because if consistent criteria were applied throughout Africa then South Africa would have been subject to equally strong travel warnings during the same period (where the level of crime is amongst the highest in Africa) - they haven't.
The other problem with the travel advisories is that they’re issued without proper attention to geographic detail.
- For example in Kenya where there were real problems in Kisumu, Kibera and other very specific spots, a blanket warning applied to “Nairobi” at one point affected people using Nairobi as a transit point into Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda!
- Similarly the travel warnings on Zimbabwe over the years have meant that “low risk” places like Victoria Falls and Kariba/lower Zambezi are tarnished with the same brush relevant to specific “high risk” areas in say Masvingo province!
The decision to travel or not is entirely your call. We like many others have been hanging in for positive change in Zimbabwe for a long time and might have to go some way yet.
So until then many good people simply won’t travel on moral grounds and for others the risk isn’t acceptable. When the time is right we hope they’ll reconsider Zimbabwe.
For those who
- aren’t risk averse;
- are perhaps a bit anti-social and keen to catch some intense safari action with outstanding guides in the absence of crowds;
- simply don’t have the time to allow bad situations get in the way of great memories;
- or just want to get out and support some old friends…