Footsteps Through Time

Footsteps Through Time
A History of Travel and Tourism to the Victoria Falls -

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

New restaurant opens in heart of Vic Falls

A new upmarket restaurant and cocktail bar, The 3 Monkeys, is now operating in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
Owner, Ilan Wiesenbacher, said the restaurant, which officially opened last Saturday, could seat over 100 people. It is in the heart of the town at the border of the railway line.
A mixed menu is on offer, featuring international flavours and a wide selection of cocktails. “We saw a gap for a restaurant with great ambience, high standards of food and beverage offering as well as top service.” Wiesenbacher added that Portuguese Espetada was proving to be the most popular dish.
He said business had been excellent, with a great response from both international and local customers.
Source (and picture): New restaurant opens in heart of Vic Falls (06/12/16)

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Cataract Island threatened by tourism development

Peter Roberts

Despite designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the unique flora and environment of the Victoria Falls rainforest is once again threatened by further tourism development with a new proposals from Zimbabwe based companies to operate tours to Cataract Island - on the very edge of the Falls themselves.

Cataract Island (right and centre) with the main falls behind

Applications have reportedly been made to the National Park authority by several local Victoria Falls tourism companies bidding to be allowed exclusive access to use the island for tourism purposes. There has been no public advertisement or comment on the proposal by Park officials.

Cataract Island is one of only two islands which break the width of the Falls. Livingstone Island, located on the Zambian side of the Falls, has been a popular tourism draw-card in recent years, including the opportunity to bathe in the 'Devil's Pool.' Visitor numbers to the island, however, are strictly limited and controlled to minimise environmental impacts.

Cataract Island lies on the Zimbabwean side of the Falls and is the only area within the immediate vicinity of the Falls which is currently inaccessible to tourists. This protection from disturbance has meant that the island has become a valuable refuge for biodiversity, nourished by the ever-falling spray from the Falls.

Historical Perspective

The idea of tours to Cataract Island is not new. Soon after the arrival of the railway and construction of the Victoria Falls Hotel in 1904, Percy Clark, the self-claimed first settler at what would become the tourist town of Victoria Falls, was already running trips to the island by Canadian canoe. Clark operated from a landing stage halfway along what is now known as Zambezi Drive.

In the years that followed the Victoria Falls Hotel took over the management of the tours, and for many decades trips were offered to Cataract Island along with upper river cruises and trips to the north bank. There was, however, no development on the island itself, apart from the tying of a simple bell to an overhanging branch and by which tourists could summon their canoe and return to the south bank. 

The island tours operated until the early 1960s, when the Hotel boat facilities mysteriously burnt down, destroying the Hotel's boats and bringing to an end operations from the landing stage. New commercial jetty sites were relocated further upstream and Cataract Island left to recover as a protected refuge for wildlife, disturbed only by the grunts of resident hippopotamus and actions of the occasional visiting elephant.

Cataract Island

Tourist numbers to the Falls in those days were a only a fraction of the estimated 200,000 visitors who now who visit the Zimbabwe side of the Falls Park each year. Guest numbers at the Victoria Falls Hotel averaged at less than 5,000 per year during the '20s and '30s (rising to 10,000 a year by the early 1950s and the opening of Livingstone Airport).

A Protected Refuge?

In 2011 local tourism operator Wild Horizons considered launching tours to the island. Strong local opinion against any development or commercial use of the island resulted in the company agreeing not to operate tours on the understanding that the island would remain a protected refuge. A subsequent application for utilisation of this site by another company was reportedly turned down by Parks citing the ecological sensitivity of the site.

The tourism industry and residents in Victoria Falls appear united in condemning the latest proposals to develop tours to the island. Their concerns appear mostly to be focused on the visual impacts of tourism activity on the island, which is the focal point of many viewpoints from within the Falls rainforest, and the resulting impacts on the visitor experience of viewing the Falls.

Yet the strongest possible argument against operating tours to Cataract Island must be the impact that visitors will have on the fragile ecology of the rainforest flora and fauna. Historically the island is also of cultural significance to the local people of the Falls, used to make sacred offerings to the ancestor spirits who inhabited the mists of the Falls in the gorge below. Cataract Island is the last, isolated fragment of the Falls rainforest which is left wholly undisturbed, and must surely remain so. 

The core area of the Victoria Falls was designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1989. The listing described the Falls as ‘a superlative natural phenomenon with exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance,’ with the governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe pledging to keep the natural environment ‘intact for future generations.’ 

Friends of Victoria Falls, a group of concerned local residents, have circulated a questionnaire to gather local perspectives on the proposal following a local stakeholders meeting. More recently an online petition against the proposal has been launched by a concerned local resident (click link to view). 

Cataract Island and rainbow

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Peter Roberts is a freelance researcher and writer on the Victoria Falls and is author of 'Sun, Steel and Spray - a History of the Victoria Falls Bridge' and 'Corridors Through Time - a history of the Victoria Falls Hotel.' He is currently finishing his third book, 'Footsteps Through Time - a history of Travel and Tourism to the Victoria Falls,' due for publication in early 2017. You can also find detailed information on the history of tourism to the Victoria Falls on Peter's website Photographs also by Peter Roberts.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Victoria Falls’ boat cruises hit the mark

Sydney Kawadza Senior Features Writer, The Herald, Zimbabwe 

The splendour associated with the Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, can never be understated. The Victoria Falls is undoubtedly the prime tourist destination in Zimbabwe.

While thousands of tourists continue to pour into Victoria Falls to view the majestic Mosi-oa-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders), its related activities have been on the rise.

The elephant walks, bush dinners, bungee jumping, wildlife tours and others are among the packages that draw tourists to Victoria Falls. Boat cruises have become a major hit with tourists visiting Victoria Falls and operators reportedly had to increase and upgrade their fleets.

The cruises, especially the popular sunset cruise, usually has more than 40 boats laden with tourists taking in the spectacle as the sun sinks to close yet another splendid day. According to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, there are 11 companies running cruises along the Zambezi River.

Furthermore, people enjoying the cruises can reach 1 445 at a go. The more than 30 boats hit the waters, either, for the breakfast cruise (6am to 8:30am), lunch cruise (12pm to 2:30pm), sunset cruise (4pm to 6.30pm) and the evening, sunset and dinner cruise (5pm -9pm).

Described by the Wild Horizon, a leading tour operator in Victoria Falls, as a superb way to relax and enjoy the beauty of the river, a boat cruise after a day of activities is the deal for tourists.

“Clients having the opportunity to see a variety of game; including hippo, crocodile and elephants.

Added to that there is a variety of bird species to watch and admire. The epitomic cruise could be the sunset cruise with a package including finger snacks, beer, wine, local spirits and soft drinks.

“The cruises also come with great photo opportunities against often-spectacular African sunsets.”

The Wild Horizons runs the Zambezi Royal offering the “discerning tourist a unique and intimate way to view the Zambezi River”.

The single level vessel allows guests to get up close to game and bird life along the Zambezi River’s shores. Tourists on the Zambezi Royal have testified of enjoying an opulent river safari without losing the excitement of cruising along Africa’s fourth largest river.

The Ra-Ikane also offers a cruise boat on boats representing the grace of a bygone era while honouring the rich history of Victoria Falls and its explorers, adventurers and heroes. The fleet was built to ensure that each guest is able to experience the wild beauty of the Zambezi River with ease and style.

In acknowledging the tourist attraction, ZTA head of corporate affairs Mr Sugar Chagonda said the Upper Zambezi had seen a rapid growth in boat cruise operations in the last five years with the introduction of a number of luxury boats.

“Presumably the third popular activity after viewing of the majestic Victoria Falls from both land and air, operators in the Zambezi River offer daily cruises ranging from sunrise breakfast excursions to delicious lunch adventures, sunset spectacles and dining under stars. There are five-star VIP, weddings and conferencing,” he said.

Mr Chagonda said the sunset cruise had gained popularity and it has become a must-do activity for every visitor to Victoria Falls.

“There is a guaranteed warm hospitality from the professional guides and captains as people relax while experiencing the flora and fauna of the mighty Zambezi.

“One may be fortunate enough to witness the great African elephant swimming from island to island, grazing or dusting themselves on the riverbanks. Cruising on the Zambezi River is a definite must on any trip to Victoria Falls.”

The cruise begins with a safety briefing shortly after launching and then, typically, journeys up river towards the Zambezi National Park. All boats are equipped with safety measures in the event of an accident though none have been used to date.

Mr Chagonda said people are attracted to Victoria Falls because it has the best weather in the world besides being home to one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Shearwater public relations and communications manager Mr Clement Mukwasi said the boat cruises had become the only activities of high turnover of repeat clients.

“Tourists who have gone on a boat cruise will always want to have another go no matter how many times they have been on the adventure.

“Cruises are not high adrenalin activities and accommodate families, from the youngest child to the oldest person in the family. They are also highly interactive in that they are educational in addition to the trip.”

Mr Mukwasi the boat cruises are environmentally very friendly to visitors coming to Zimbabwe.

“People from all walks of life find pleasure in the boat cruises and the most important thing is that it is an activity in the marketing zone without conflict.

“Companies who offer the package do not market cruises outside Zimbabwe as individuals but as a collective unit using a combined approach to lure visitors to Zimbabwe,” he said.

Boat cruises have also been accident free since they were launched.

“Boat cruises go with a little munch and unlimited drink,” Mr Mukwasi said.

According to statistics released by the ZTA early this year, Zimbabwe recorded a nine percent increase in tourist arrivals last year to 2 million. These were largely driven by African visitors who pass through Zimbabwe.

ZTA chief executive Mr Karikoga Kaseke said in 2014, Zimbabwe received 1,8 million visitors. The visitors increased by nine percent in 2015 and was slightly more than two million tourists.

Africa has contributed 1,76 million, Americas 76 751, Asia 35 000, Europe 149 000, Middle East 3 990 and Oceania 25 000 from 26 000 of visitors coming to Zimbabwe in 2014. This is because the visitors have an average expenditure of $1 600 person per visit while African visitors spend on average $150 per person per visit. Zimbabwe’s tourism receipts also grew from about $500 million in 2009 to about $827 million in 2014.

In terms of regional market share, South Africa receives the largest chunk at 42 percent, Botswana and Mozambique 9 percent each, Angola and Zimbabwe 8 percent each, Swaziland and Tanzania 5 percent each, Malawi and Zambia 4 percent each, Angola 3 percent, Lesotho 2 percent and DRC 1 percent.

Globally, Africa recorded a 3 percent drop to 53 million international tourist arrivals in 2015, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).

According to the UNWTO Tourism Barometer, the North African region, at 8 percent, accounted for the biggest drop in arrivals on the continent while sub-Saharan Africa recorded a 1 percent decrease.
The drop in arrivals in North Africa was likely influenced by disturbances in the region and a ban on international flights to Egypt in the last quarter of the year by countries such as Russia and Britain after a plane carrying tourists crashed.

The UNWTO, however, anticipated a rebound, registering a growth of between 2 and 5 percent in arrivals. Despite the slump registered in Africa, overall international tourist arrivals surged 4,4 percent to 1,2 billion in 2015.

Zimbabwe boasts warm and hospitable people, pristine wildlife and nature, it is also home to the BIG Five and is home to fourth largest river, the Zambezi, in Africa.

Among its tourist attractions is the world’s fourth highest waterfall, the Matarazi Falls and boasts of a rich history and heritage while it has one of the largest man-made inland dams, Lake Kariba.

Meanwhile, besides hosting the Crete2Cape Vintage Air Rally next week, Victoria Falls has a number of activities for the festive season. These include Christmas dinners, lunches and New Bash by the various hotels in the resort town.

Most facilities will also host Christmas Carols by Candle Light including children programmes during the period. The biggest event will, however, be the Victoria Falls Carnival to be held from December 29, 2016 to January 1, 2017.

Source: Victoria Falls’ boat cruises hit the mark (02/12/16)

Friday, 2 December 2016

More Lokuthula lodges available to book as timeshare leases expire

The popular self-catering Lokuthula Lodges in Victoria Falls will soon be easier to book, as an increasing number of units become available as their timeshare leases expire.

Africa Albida Tourism (AAT) chief executive Ross Kennedy said currently ten Lokuthula Lodges were available in the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge stock, but this number was set to increase to 14 in January, and by January 2018 19 lodges would be available for bookings.
“From January 1, two two-bedroom lodges and two three-bedroom lodges will be added to the existing two three-bedroom units, which can accommodate up to eight people, and eight two-bedroom units, which can accommodate up to six people,” Mr Kennedy said.
“Having enough lodges to meet demand has been a growing challenge and we are very pleased to be able to advise that the number of lodges available to be booked will almost double over the next year.”
Lokuthula Lodges, which are located within the grounds of the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge resort, are available either on a bed and breakfast basis or full self-catering, and are ideal for groups, he said.
“This Lokuthula B&B option is wonderful for families, destination weddings, conferences, as well as school and church groups and sports teams,” Mr Kennedy said.
“Several overland companies also use Lokuthula as their start or finish point in Victoria Falls for their Southern Africa itineraries. Combined with a night at The Boma – Dinner & Drum Show, it is a memorable way to begin or end a wonderful trip.”
“The regional and local self-drive markets also favour Lokuthula, whilst French, Dutch, Belgian and other European tourists are regular visitors,” he said.
In addition, with the premium Victoria Falls Safari Club, award-winning Victoria Falls Safari Lodge and the luxurious Victoria Falls Safari Suites close-by, there is a range of accommodation on offer to suit different preferences and budgets, he said.
“Lokuthula Lodges, which opened in 1992, were sold as timeshare on 25 year leases, so the earliest contracts have now expired, and others continue to expire, and will do so, as the months and years roll on. As contracts expire, so the responsibility for their upkeep reverts to their developers, AAT.
“In addition to the expired contracts, we have encountered various other forms of contract cessation along the way, such as owners leaving the country, deceased estates and cancelled contracts,” he said.
“There is a combination of two- and three- bedroom lodges available, and they can now be booked well in advance, in the same way hotel rooms can be booked.”

Africa Albida Tourism is a Zimbabwe-owned hospitality group which operates a portfolio of properties in Victoria Falls, including Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Victoria Falls Safari Club, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge and Lokuthula Lodges, and in Chobe, Botswana.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Vic Falls hosts eco-musical event for wildlife

Leonard Ncube in Victoria Falls

ENVIRONMENTALISTS in conjunction with tour operators and hotels in Victoria Falls are organising a musical show to raise $50 000 which will be used towards fighting human-wildlife conflict. The first ever eco-musical event dubbed Elefenst2016 has been slated for December 17 at Riverside – on the edges of the Zambezi River.

Artistes from the resort town – Evicted, Mackay, Flying Bantu, Army and the Calamities, Kweseka Band, So Kindly and Bud Cockcroft & friends are billed to perform with more national artistes set to be unveiled.

Show organiser Guy Cockcroft said they wanted to raise funds to erect a solar electric fence around a dumpsite near Masue River. The project also includes setting up a string of beehives between Mkhosana suburb and the Chamabondo National Park and Zambezi National Park (elephants are afraid of bees) to prevent elephants from straying into human settlements as well as erecting another electric fence around the Big Tree where elephants have killed people before.

“The initial target is $50 000 but even if we reach this, plans are underway to make the fundraising an ongoing annual event,” Cockroft said.

“We hope to erect a fence around the dumpsite after realising that every night, there’re elephants and other species scavenging for food which end up eating plastics. An elephant eats about 2 000kgs of grass daily and that includes plastics and researchers from Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust have been finding dead animals with plastic in their abdomen.”

Elefenst2016 will be a family fun day as people are encouraged to come out to support the cause.

“We’re appealing for corporate sponsorship in cash or kind,” said Cockroft.

Organisations involved in the fundraising include Victoria Falls Green Fund, Environment Africa, Shearwater, Wilderness Safaris, Victoria Falls Hotel and Beauty Guest Lodge. Tickets for the show are already on sale with the cheapest being $10. VIP tickets are being sold for $60.


Source: Vic Falls hosts eco-musical event for wildlife (14/11/16)

Transforming Livingstone into a premier conferencing destination

[From The Lusaka Times, Zambia]

GOVERNMENT’s intentions of transforming Livingstone into a premier conferencing centre in Southern Africa next year is a step in the right direction in terms of increasing tourist arrivals to Zambia’s Tourist Capital, Zambia Tourism Agency (ZTA) managing director Felix Chaila has said.
In his address to National Assembly on Friday during the presentation of the 2017 Budget, Finance Minister Felix Mutati said the Government would next year transform Livingstone into a premier conferencing centre in Southern Africa to leverage on the infrastructure developments that had been undertaken.
Speaking in an interview yesterday, Mr Chaila said Livingstone was an attractive destination but it lacked adequate conference facilities and hence the move by the Government would increase tourist arrivals.
“This is a welcome move because Livingstone is already an attractive destination and conferences will be an added incentive.
“Tourists are looking for destinations that have a diverse product range including conferences,” Mr Chaila said.
He said the move was also in line with the growing global trend of promoting the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) industry.
The MICE industry is currently one of the fastest growing segments of the tourism base world over as it mainly attracted local tourists.
Globally, the MICE segment carters for about 400, 000 events annually across the globe with a total of about US$ 280 billion out of which about 14, 000 are meetings, conferences, conventions and congresses involving professional associations, corporate bodies, religious groups and inter-governmental bodies.
Most tourism enterprises are now investing in conference rooms to capture this business segment which assures high room occupancy rates and increased consumption of food and beverages among others.
Mr Chaila said there was need to ensure that people who travel to Livingstone to view the Victoria Falls also had an opportunity to enjoy other facilities such as resorts and conferences.
He the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) region, which include five Southern African Countries including Zambia, had also identified MICE as one of the industries which could grow the tourism sector.
“During the 20th session of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly, Zambia had to partner with Zimbabwe to host the event because we did not have inadequate conference facilities in Livingstone and Victoria Falls Town.
“We also have been struggling to host large groups of tourists because of the same challenge and so the move by the Government will boost the sector,” Mr Chaila said.
Last week, a high powered delegation comprising of five Cabinet Ministers met China Africa Cotton which is planning to invest US$ 50 million to construct a world-class hotel and a sky wheel with a 5, 000 capacity conference facility in the Victoria Falls area of Livingstone.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Vic Falls is ours, not yours: Zim tells SA

SOUTH Africa must stop advertising Victoria Falls as its own destination, as Zimbabwe is losing out in terms of tourism revenues, deputy chief secretary to the President and Cabinet, Ray Ndhlukula, has said.
Speaking at an All Stakeholders Zimbabwe Image Management workshop in Harare yesterday, Ndhlukula said it was disturbing that tourists were now flying in and out of Zimbabwe on the same day.
“Do you know South Africa advertises Victoria Falls as if it belongs to South Africa? That is what they do. A lot of people (tourists) get the impression that Victoria Falls is part of South Africa. So, for example, they get to the Victoria Falls at 10am, view the falls, they have lunch there and then at 4pm, they are flying out,” he said.
“There are some people, who have asked if Victoria Falls is in South Africa, but South Africans do not tell them it is in Zimbabwe, which is very unfair for us. It is an issue we need to discuss with South Africa. Now, that we have got a bilateral agreement, they must stop advertising Victoria Falls as theirs.”
The workshop was aimed at improving the Zimbabwean brand.
Victoria Falls is the country’s premier tourist destination and has the second highest tourist occupancy rate after Harare.
The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority first quarter report shows that Victoria Falls had an occupancy rate of 35% from 450 572 tourists, who visited the country during that period.
The threat of neighbouring countries, mainly, South Africa and Zambia, was seen when occupancy levels declined by 2% from the first quarter of 2015.
Zimbabwe Council of Tourism (ZCT) president, Francis Ngwenya said “something” needed to be done, as the competition from neighbouring countries had become a major challenge facing the tourism sector.
“The reason why South Africa started marketing the country as theirs was because during the 2008/9 crisis, Zimbabwe could only market the country with South Africa and Zambia. This led to our brand (Zimbabwe) being overtaken. So something needs to be done,” he said.
Ngwenya said the country had to use Zambia and South Africa because of the negative perception that came from the 2008/9 period.
An analyst said that from his previous experience, the only way to market Victoria Falls and stop other countries from elbowing out Zimbabwe was to offer a very attractive package that would lure tourists to explore the country beyond Victoria Falls.
In 2015, ZCT polled 145 tourists staying at Victoria Falls, and discovered 74% to be using international agents in making their trip, with only 10% preferring local agents. The average budget for tourists was $1 900 per visit.
However, ZCT found that 52% of them underestimated the costs and ended up spending more than their budget.
The average stay for a tourist is two to three nights.