Travel advisories doom tourism in trouble-plagued Zimbabwe

Travel to southern Africa is up, but there's one country few people are visiting these days: Zimbabwe, which is suffering from triple-digit inflation, violent crime, and worsening shortages of food and gas. After the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning in January, many tour operators pulled out of the country, replacing trips to Zimbabwe's game parks with safaris in more politically stable places like Botswana and South Africa. Victoria Falls, however, is a unique attraction. Although an Australian backpacker was murdered there earlier this year, the site is considered relatively safe.

Some operators, such as Butterfield & Robinson, have continued to lead groups to the falls but now arrange overnight stays across the border in Zambia, where several hotels have recently opened. Tauck World Discovery has altered its southern Africa trip, moving Victoria Falls to the last two nights so that wary travelers can opt out without missing the beginning of the trip.

Still, business isn't great on either side of the border. At the Victoria Falls Hotel occupancy has dropped 35 percent. "I've always compared Victoria Falls to the Grand Canyon," says Muriel Truter, a director at Butterfield & Robinson and a Zimbabwe native. "Everyone who came to southern Africa stayed at the falls for a night or two. Now there's nobody there. It's tragic."