There’s a whole host of developing nations hitching their wagons to China in the hopes of development opportunities, tourism included. Zimbabwe is one of many with big hopes tied to their relationship with China. At the center of this effort is the Chinese company International International Holdings Group, who has signed an MoU with Zimbabwe’s government for a $1.2 billion media deal and made promises to build a $7 billion “tourism city” in Zimbabwe in collaboration with 17 Chinese billionaires.

The government of Zimbabwe has signed $1.2 billion dollar tourism promotion deal and a $7 billion dollar agreement to build a “tourism city”

But what these deals actually entail for the development of Zimbabwe’s tourism industry isn’t clear. Both deals were signed in April,  but few details have emerged since then on the nature of the media deal and the tourism city.

What we do know is that the media deal will entail the shooting of a promotional video about tourism in Zimbabwe for the Chinese market, with the help of a Chinese radio and TV group. According to Tourism and Hospitality Minister Prisca Mupfumira “the deal worth $1.2 billion is expected to unlock investments in the Zimbabwean tourism and hospitality industry.” It’s hard to imagine that the $1.2 billion will be spent solely for the production of a single video, and it seems likely that other media marketing efforts will be undertaken.

The minister also noted that Victoria Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the border of Zambia, will be a major feature of the deal’s efforts.

The new tourism city will be located either outside of Harare or Bulawayo

As for the $7 billion tourism city, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority Chief Executive Dr Karikoga Kasekeit stated it will be located somewhere outside of the nation’s capital Harare or Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city. Victoria Falls will not be included in this deal.

“We are happy that we managed to talk to major Chinese tour operators and they promised us that with effect from next year they will be selling the Zimbabwe holiday destination,” Kasekeit noted.

Hopefully, more details of how these investments will be used will be made more clear next year when Zimbabwe becomes a destination sold by Chinese tour operators.

Zimbabwean officials hope the tourism deals will also open up opportunities for infrastructure development and boost the country’s exports

While both deals are ostensibly about tourism, officials also stated they hoped the investments will also be able to open up the development of various industries, including agricultural and mining exports, infrastructure construction, and low-cost housing.

Touchroad International has been involved in numerous deals all across the African continent. The firm was launched in 2000 by He Liehui, when he traveled to Ghana. According to a mission statement from 2014, Touchroad is involved in business in some 20 African nations. Perhaps the most prominent has been Djibouti, a nation with a key port on the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. The country and its port is also a major component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Chinese navy maintains a base in the country.

Touchroad’s Africa center houses more than business interests, it’s also the home to numerous African consulates in Shanghai

Touchroad touts itself as a private company, but has extensive connections with various African governments. For the Djibouti deal signed in 2016, He acted as the general representative of the Djibouti National Investment Promotion Agency. According to a promotional video from 2014, the Touchroad Group’s Africa Center in Shanghai is also home to some 500 companies and 40 African governments planned to set up consulates and private enterprises there.

The firm’s connections to the Chinese government are less clear. However given that it has been involved in many strategic agreements associated with the Belt and Road Initiative and the firm’s Africa Center hosts numerous official consulates, it seems likely that the company has some sort of connection with Chinese authorities, even if the exact nature of the relationship is unclear.

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