Beribboned funeral wreaths lean against the wall of the green-painted tourism office in central Mutare, Zimbabwe's fourth-largest city. The flower sellers are doing a brisk business, but there are no tourists inside the building. Zimbabwe's tourism industry, once the southern African country's second-biggest foreign-currency earner after tobacco, died a slow death after the onset of President Robert Mugabe's violence-ridden land-reform programme more than four years ago. Manicaland province, with its lush, evergreen-forested mountains, exotic birdlife and proximity to Mozambique, was a magnet for foreign tourists in the 1990s. But attacks on white farmers, political insecurity and shortages of essentials like fuel have scared off visitors. Workers in the local industry are glum. 'We're getting zero [foreign tourists],' said the owner of one family hotel just outside Mutare. 'We've got to rely on conferences because there are no foreign tourists coming through.' Nestling just off Bvumba Road, 16km from the city, is Tony's Coffee Shoppe 'for indulgent treats'. Guide books rave about Tony's choice of chocolate cakes. Inside a thatched house with a flower-dotted garden, deserted round tables are carefully laid with gilt tablecloths. 'We keep going. It's part of the challenge,' the proprietor said. 'We're busiest at the weekends.' But the only guests on a Saturday afternoon were a German couple. They said they entered Zimbabwe from Mozambique but planned to steer clear of the capital Harare. 'We've heard there are some problems.' The slump in Zimbabwe's tourism industry has been spectacular. While figures for tourist arrivals in Manicaland province were not available, only 1.27 million tourists came into Zimbabwe between January and September last year, a drop of 29 per cent from 2003. In its heyday in the late 1990s, more than 2.1 million tourists visited Zimbabwe a year, according to figures from the National Chamber of Commerce. Foreign-currency earnings from the industry were US$700 million in 1999; last year the total was just US$152 million. Struggling to get the foreign currency it needs for essential imports like medicine, the Zimbabwean government is desperate to revive the tourism industry. In a country with only limited press freedom, tourism officials last year were allowed to launch a glossy new magazine, Zimbabwean Travel. In its January issue, editor Nomsa Nkala blames the minute levels of tourism on 'propaganda against Zimbabwe'. 'What once was regarded as the 'Jewel of Africa' suddenly became a no-go area,' she said. The magazine is sold in countries such as Botswana, Namibia and England - from where many of Zimbabwe's visitors used to flock - but not apparently in Zimbabwe's newest target market, China. Boosted by the apparent success of Mr Mugabe's much-trumpeted 'Look East' policy - China is now Zimbabwe's biggest investor - tourism authorities have decided to concentrate their efforts on luring Chinese visitors to the country. China's alliance with Zimbabwe dates back to the struggle for independence, when the Asian country helped bush fighters with military training and arms. A year ago, it granted Zimbabwe its Approved Destination Status, an announcement greeted with glee by Zimbabwean authorities. Arrivals from China went up 392 per cent, although the total figure for January to September last year was only 24,500 Chinese tourists. Not all industry officials share the Zimbabwe government's enthusiasm for the Asian market. 'Nothing of significance has happened in terms of China, to be completely honest,' said Shingi Munyeza, the president of the Zimbabwe Council of Tourism. Undeterred, the national carrier Air Zimbabwe in December launched a twice-weekly return flight to China. Officials promised the flights would 'open the floodgates to Chinese tourists', although press reports claim the flights are nearly empty. With watershed parliamentary elections only two months away and political insecurity likely to deepen, the immediate future for tourism in Zimbabwe looks far from promising.