GYEONGJU,South Korea // Zimbabwe would like to talk with the UAE about one of Dubai's and Abu Dhabi's most popular and profitable commodities - shopping malls.
The expansive country in southern Africa is planning to ask the UAE to invest in and develop Dubai-style shopping malls in its major cities.
The country's economy and tourism industry effectively collapsed in the past decade under the government of Robert Mugabe, the president.
"We need malls," said Walter Mzembi, Zimbabwe's minister of tourism, speaking at a United Nations tourism conference in South Korea. "We hope in the very short term the Emirates will set up shops in Zimbabwe. We are repositioning the destination, but I think what is lacking is a shopping experience.
"When I do my next trip [to the UAE] at an official level, I will definitely raise it with my counterparts. I can't wait for that trip where I can engage them. We have plenty of land.
"I think Harare could take two or three malls and each major town could take one."
He said the population of more than 12 million needed better-quality shopping destinations with big-brand stores.
Investment in landlocked Zimbabwe has been limited amid its political instability. However, Dubai World more than two years ago said it was investing in a wildlife game reserve in the country, and Rani Investment, a company based in Dubai, has invested in a hotel and game reserve in the Victoria Falls area, as well as in the country's River Ranch diamond mine.
From 2000 onwards, the land reform policies of Mr Mugabe resulted in a sharp decline in tourism, leading to thousands of job losses.
"Zimbabwe used to be a very interesting destination, where the main motivation for tourists to go there was the national parks," said Ousmane Ndiaye, the UN World Tourism Organization's regional director for Africa.
"It was one of the main destinations for Africa and the southern part of Africa. Right now they are really trying to improve the destination and attract more tourists. The strongest product that Africa has is nature, and culture." Many international airlines stopped flying to Zimbabwe because of its troubles and as the country's inflation rate soared.
But Emirates Airline has announced plans to launch direct flights five times a week between Dubai and Harare in February.
The Dubai airline is expanding its reach into Africa, with the launch of flights to Lusaka in Zambia on the same day.
"The arrival of an airline of Emirates' stature will be very significant for Zimbabwe, increasing capacity, connectivity and choice as the country strives to consolidate its economic recovery through attracting new trade, tourism and investment," said David Chawota, the chief executive of Zimbabwe's civil aviation authority.
Mr Mzembi said that while there would be some tourism flows, most of the passengers were likely to be Zimbabwean traders flocking to Dubai on the direct flights to pick up goods.
A direct service between Harare and Dubai operated by Air Zimbabwe was scrapped in 2009. "If they are not going to Dubai, Zimbabweans are going to Tanzania, because the Tanzanians pick stuff from the Middle East for us in their warehouses," said Mr Mzembi.
"But we prefer to go to the source. Our merchandising industry prefers to go direct to the Middle East, to places like Dubai, for their shopping … They actually go in brigades."