Taking stock: Seven years of blogging about Zimbabwe

Blogging Zimbabwe BethLife is hectic at the moment (isn’t it always?) but I’ve decided to sit down and take stock of what’s happened on this blog over the past seven years. Writing Great Zimbabwe Guide has been a way for me to feel connected to Zimbabwe despite living so far away from it. Blogging has given me a wider range of online skills too: I’ve come a long way since wading through WordPress for Dummies in my room seven years ago.

Why did I start blogging about Zimbabwe?

Beth Great Zimbabwe Guide BloggerFor those of you who don’t know me, I spent the first 18 years of my life in Zimbabwe, then went on to do a gap year in Scotland and a degree at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. I’ve always loved the written word, whether it be reading or writing, and so I chose a degree majoring in English, Media and Journalism. During my journalism major in particular, I realized that I was most passionate writing about topics relating to Zimbabwe rather than South Africa or other countries. However, at that time (2007/8), Zimbabwe was at its worst point of economic meltdown, and its political situation wasn’t much better. I couldn’t see how I could possibly make a living doing writing in Zimbabwe. So I moved to UK after I graduated, and discovered that getting a journalism job required either a local accreditation course or an apprenticeship − neither of which would allow me to cover my rent. With no option of living with family or friends (who were in Zimbabwe/SA), and a stubborn desire to be independent, I decided to look for a job in the publishing industry instead. I got a role in an academic publishing house.

I can’t say that I immediately fell in love with publishing, but I was thankful that I had a job, especially as the impact of the financial crisis was being felt across the country. I saved what money I could and, after 18 months of living in the UK, I visited Zimbabwe for a 2-week holiday. To this day, 18 months is the longest amount of time I’ve ever been away from Zimbabwe. As I progressed in my career in Oxford, I was able to visit Zimbabwe every year.

Bally Vaughan Animal Sanctuary, Harare, Zimbabwe

During my visits, I saw the country of my childhood from a different angle. I began to appreciate Zimbabwe as a holiday destination as well as just “home”. Zimbabwe had enormous open spaces, its own unique history, culture, sunshine, and of course, world-class wildlife. But it seemed like hardly anyone outside Zimbabwe saw it that way. What little news of Zimbabwe was published in Western media was mainly restricted to its economic and political woes. International safari operators waxed lyrical about Zimbabwe in their brochures, but their words seemed out of touch and impersonal. Neither the newspapers nor the tour operators were telling the story of Zimbabwe that I had come to know, so I decided to add my voice to cyberspace.

I knew that I wasn’t the most experienced Zimbabwean traveller, or the most adventurous safari-goer, or even the most qualified to write about it − but those weren’t reasons not to write about Zimbabwe travel at all. I knew that Zimbabwe was an extremely rewarding place to visit, even if you weren’t the most experienced or adventurous traveller. I also knew that there were thousands of people working in Zimbabwe’s tourism industry whose families were directly affected by the lack of visitors. The name of Zimbabwe travel deserved more than what was out there.

The first years of Great Zimbabwe Guide

First Post Great Zimbabwe GuideI wanted to share positive stories about Zimbabwe. Not because I was naively ignoring the bad news, but because there were already media outlets for political and economic stories. Despite the many hardships that Zimbabweans were facing, they were also doing some amazing work, especially in the arts, conservation and community-building fields. This is why some of my first blog posts in 2010 included a Zimbabwean film winning an Oscar and information about a community farming campaign.

I chose to hone in on Zimbabwe travel for the simple reason that there wasn’t anyone else doing it at the time. Yes, there were magazines and newspapers that wrote about Zimbabwe safaris (with varying degrees of partiality), but blogging is different. Blogs are more personal. Good blogs are also independent: the writers don’t rely on an income from just one company or conglomerate. Blogs invite comments and feedback from their readers. Bloggers put their own names behind their views. Good blogs give authentic, first-hand advice. In 2010, I couldn’t see anyone else representing Zimbabwe travel on those terms.

Great Zimbabwe Ruins Monument (1 of 1)-7I chose the name ‘Great Zimbabwe Guide’ because I wanted to write my own version of a travel guide on Zimbabwe, and I wanted to convey positivity from the get-go. I also wanted something catchy that people would remember, and obviously, something that wasn’t already taken. The historical ruins at the physical place of Great Zimbabwe were the obvious source of the wordplay on the name of the blog. Sometimes people think that I’m referring to myself as a “great guide”, but that was never my intention! Zimbabwe travel is great, and I’m just writing a guide about the topic.

There were few people blogging about Zimbabwe in 2010, and few people reading blogs about Zimbabwe. I wrote infrequently, knowing that the mainstay of my readers were limited to family members. It seemed like non-Zimbabweans were so put off by the country’s politics that they would never dream of setting foot in the place. Some people argued that it was unethical to travel to Zimbabwe (something I wrote about later, in 2012).

Screenshot Great Zimbabwe Guide 2013In 2012, I decided to invest more time and money in the blog, so I moved from a free hosting system to one that I had to pay for, and I bought the domain name. With the stabilization that the US Dollar had brought to the economy, I hoped that there were more people starting to become interested in Zimbabwe travel again. I published articles more frequently, went on some courses (such as Blogging Your Way), and got a DLSR camera. I concentrated on writing travel journal-style articles, in the hope that this would inspire others to visit Zimbabwe too.

Local businesses in Zimbabwe were, and still are, fighting a tough battle financially, and are wary of ‘new’ media, but in 2013, there were some companies that partnered with me on various blog posts. I loved collaborating with Wild Horizons, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge and Kariba Ferries during an epic roadtrip around Zimbabwe because they are brands that I believe in. Financial integrity and transparency has always been very important for me, and I don’t do brand partnerships or adverts without careful consideration, so it was wonderful to work with such top-class players in Zimbabwe’s tourism industry.

GreatZimbabweGuide.com at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

Most popular posts on Great Zimbabwe Guide to date

My readership is over twenty times bigger than it was in 2012: a statistic that encourages me enormously when I’m writing. I don’t have the statistics of my hits all the way from 2010, but I do have them from 2012 onwards. The five most popular articles on this blog to date are:

Renew Zimbabwe passportZimbabwe Harare areas and suburbsBest places in Harare Zimbabwe AfricaBest Day Trips from Harare Tips visitors Zimbabwe cash crisis

  • How to renew a Zimbabwe passport from the UK. This post gives step-by-step advice for people living in the UK about renew ingtheir Zimbabwe passport. I think the popularity of this post shows how many Zimbos are living in the UK. If that’s you, hello!
  • Areas and suburbs of Harare. I never thought this would be one of my most popular posts. It has a map of Harare showing the locations and names of the different areas, and some information about the suburbs.
  • Best places to visit in Harare. This was one of the first posts I ever published on the blog, but I have updated it often to try keep the information is accurate. I was raised in Harare, and there are so many beautiful places to visit there that I could talk for hours about this topic. I’m glad that others are finding it useful.
  • Best day trips from Harare. For anyone able to take a short drive out of Harare, the rewards are plenty. There are animal sanctuaries, dams, rock formations and many other places to go on a day trip or weekend break.
  • Tips for visitors to Zimbabwe during the “cash crisis”. Considering that this post was only written last year, it’s great that it’s had so many hits. Zimbabwe has had a shortage of cash since May 2016, and this has raised questions for those visiting Zimbabwe. I tried to give some practical advice on this topic in this post.

Looking forward

Screenshot Great Zimbabwe Guide Feb 2017It’s difficult to set realistic objectives for Great Zimbabwe Guide because the time that I spend on it isn’t as much as I would like: I juggle it between my family, job and my online business. Although I enjoy writing about Zimbabwe culture and events, there are other websites that are covering those topics these days. This means that I’ll be focusing on practical travel articles, and fitting in some book reviews and current affairs articles (where relevant) when I can.

I aim to focus on the following four areas:

  1. Write more city and place guides about different areas of Zimbabwe.
  2. Write more practical travel tips giving useful advice on how to plan for, and enjoy a trip to Zimbabwe.
  3. Collaborate with others in the form of guest posts and industry partnerships to include a wider range of voices on Great Zimbabwe Guide.
  4. Write for external publications to increase awareness about Zimbabwe travel opportunities.

A few things that I definitely won’t do:

  1. I won’t plaster hundreds of photos of myself all over the website just for the sake of it. I know that personality is a key element to blogging, but I want to express this through the opinions in my writing and content, rather than countless photos of myself. I’m put off by websites and Instagram feeds that consist of people taking nothing but selfies. My aim is to have a good balance of personality and need-to-know information.
  2. I won’t publish sponsored content just for the sake of earning money. There are some websites and bloggers who will go on paid-for holidays and gush about them to their readers without disclosing the fact that they were paid to do so. You can read more about my sponsorship stance here, but you can be sure that I will always tell readers when I’ve been sponsored to write about another company. In addition, I won’t write about a company at all if I feel that they are poor quality or operate unethically.
  3. I won’t blog for the purpose of selling tours for a specific tour company or conglomerate. I know of Zimbabwe travel websites who write articles with the intention of drawing in readers, to sell them a tour or safari. There are blogs which write about a select number of safaris operated by a conglomerate of businesses (unbeknownst to the reader). Whilst I understand that this is financially necessary for some websites and companies, I choose to stay independent and to have complete control over what I write about. I believe that independent content gives readers awareness of the full scope of travel options available to them. Readers of my site can learn about tour packages and booking agencies as well as other alternatives.
  4. I won’t populate my blog with other people’s photos and articles. I want people to visit this website for an original take on a topic. It would be easy for me to just find previously published articles about Zimbabwe and put them on here in a general news repository, which would probably increase my SEO and traffic, but that’s not what this blog is about. I want to publish original photos and articles as far as possible.

Thank you

I’d like to finish by saying THANK YOU to everyone who has visited Great Zimbabwe Guide over the past seven years. I know that it is my choice to write this blog and that I do it mainly as an outlet for my own desire to write about Zimbabwe in some shape or form. However, when I see that people are visiting the website, commenting on my articles and sharing them on social media, it makes my heart swell and fills me with encouragement to continue. 

Please do let me know if you would like to write an article for this blog, or if you have suggestions about what you would like me to write about. I want this website to grow into a trusted source of information that people will return to again and again. It’s not about me, it’s about my love for Zimbabwe, so if you have any ideas about how best to cover Zimbabwe in an honest way, please email me on info[at]greatzimbabweguide.com.

Thanks for reading this post, despite it being longer and more personal than usual.

– Beth

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Zimbabwe travel blogger with elephant

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