The investment of US$2.7m in a new luxury room block by Victoria Falls Safari Lodge is but one of many positive indicators that Zimbabwe tourism is on a steady revival path after a faltering past decade. Said Ross Kennedy, Chief Executive of Africa Albida Tourism (AAT), “there was a perceptible momentum in changing fortunes in 2011, backed by hard statistics, and 2012 has seen that pace quicken with “good news” stories coming in a steady stream”. Africa Albida Tourism has put its money where its mouth is by embarking on the construction of an exclusive new 20-room wing, the Victoria Falls Safari Club, and will also spend $300,000 on refashioning the public areas of the existing award-winning lodge.
Kennedy highlighted other good news stories coming out of Zimbabwe:
- A number of industry players in Victoria Falls are also showing their confidence in the industry by undertaking similar projects to cope with the international upswing. The Victoria Falls Airport is being modernised and enlarged and the runway is being lengthened to 4km to cope with bigger aircraft in anticipation of greatly increased numbers. A number of international airlines are reported to be in discussions with Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) concerning direct long haul access to Victoria Falls.
- Emirates has commenced its five-times-a-week schedule from Dubai to Harare via Lusaka to open up the Middle East to Zimbabwe for the first time and load factors are high.
- The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has enthusiastically endorsed Victoria Falls for its global summit in 2013, expected to draw 3,000 delegates and spouses from 158 countries across an 8-day programme between August 23 and September 02, 2013.
- The African Travel Association (ATA) has followed suit and will stage its conference for up to 600 delegates at Victoria Falls from 18 to 22 May this year.
- A modern conference centre and tourism “plaza” is to be constructed at Victoria Falls to lure international association events and is scheduled to be complete by August 2013.
- South African Airways (SAA) has dramatically increased its capacity to Zimbabwe by 66% by introducing a daily A330-200 flight (222-seats) from Johannesburg to Harare and more seats to Victoria Falls. SAA’s monthly capacity is now touching 70,000 as a sure sign of resurgence for tourism.
- Air Namibia are reported to be launching a four-times-a-week schedule from Windhoek to Harare in April.
- A local airline SolAir has been licensed by CAAZ and is set to announce domestic routes soon using a 90-seater Beechcraft.
It’s still a way off the heady days of 1995 but the New York Times recently rated Zimbabwe as one of three fast-emerging and worthy destinations. “Zimbabwe was once a thriving tourism magnet,” recalled the NYT, “but now the unity government, relative economic stability, brought about by the adoption of American dollars, is generating cautious optimism.”
In 2011 tourism earnings increased by almost 50% to 2.3 million visitors and that renaissance is continuing this year. The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA, USA) a significant global organisation headquartered in America has issued a January 2012 report to its members that shines a positive light on Zimbabwe.
“Should the positive upward trend of international tourists continue then the future of tourism in Zimbabwe in 2012 looks bright,” said ATTA, USA. “The year 2011 showed a marked improvement in fortunes with seven of the main lodges/hotels in Victoria Falls reporting one seven-month period as their best since 1999”.
Kennedy added that these statistics were all the more impressive “because they were not driven by low rates but are rather based on revenue per room available (RevPar) which would be the envy of many regional competitors in the current tough world economic environment.”
In 2011 most hotels in the Victoria Falls region recorded increased occupancies. Arrivals into Victoria Falls grew by 19.6% in 2011 versus 2010, with growth from existing markets, plus increased interest and arrivals from new markets such as Eastern Europe, Middle East and Asia. AAT’s flagship accommodation establishment, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, had the best July occupancy for 10 years in 2011 at 70%. At the group’s award-winning Boma – Place of Eating restaurant located on the same resort, only July 2007 had better covers with 183 covers per night, and July 2011 delivering 163 covers per night.
Arrivals in other parts of Zimbabwe are also growing. Sharon Stead, Marketing Director and co-owner of The Amalinda Collection reports enthusiastically on Ivory Lodge in Hwange and Camp Amalinda in the Matobo Hills. “Camp Amalinda had a record year in 2011 achieving 75% occupancy, with June 2012 already sitting at 90%! Ivory Lodge, Hwange recorded its best month ever in August 2011 at 87% and 2012 bookings look set to break all previous occupancy records for the Lodge”. Stead added “Together with many other Hwange lodge owners and operators, we are well advanced on the launch of a Hwange destination marketing campaign, to be known as the Herd of Hwange which will be formally launched at Indaba in May. This will help to re-establish Hwange as one of the jewels of Africa’s wildlife sanctuaries”.
With the introduction in 2009 of the American dollar as the base currency and a process of reconciliation currently underway, Zimbabwe is fast becoming a viable and popular holiday destination for tourists. And it’s no surprise – with a wealth of natural treasures, including the magnificent Victoria Falls, luxurious and affordable safari and hotel accommodation all serviced by reputedly the most hospitable people in Africa, Zimbabwe has so much to offer local and international visitors. People, culture, history, monuments, wildlife, art, sport – Zimbabwe has it all!
Over the past three years a relative calm has returned to Zimbabwe’s economy and according to the influential tourism body, World Travel & Tourism Council, Zimbabwe’s tourism economy is set to grow at 9.2% this year, making it the third fastest growing tourism economy in the world. And with political goodwill in place to foster a more stable future for the country, more visitors are predicted to make their way to Zimbabwe, reclaiming the country’s reputation as the pride of Africa.
Zimbabwe tourism continues to grow ()