Mzembi says US$30 billion economy can be grown in Victoria Falls
Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi says a US$30 billion economy can be grown in Victoria Falls with new infrastructure projects and other investments coming to the resort town.
Speaking at celebrations to mark Victoria Falls Safari Lodge's 20th anniversary, Mzembi said a multi-million dollar investment by Africa Albida for the establishment of a new conservation park dovetailed well into his ministry's vision.
"Next to the airport I intend to create a Niagara, a $30 billion economy ... We realise that the difference between our own Victorial Falls and Niagara is that we have not planted any infrastructure that captures the imagination of the demographic dividend, the younger group," Mzembi said.
"It fits very well with my own vision on biodiversity. It's a biodiversity project that you are doing under Santonga (see: Santoga Project an Insult to Vic Falls), and I want to assure you that the project should go ahead."
He said the new US$150 million Victoria Falls International Airport, due to open next August, would triple capacity, potentially boosting earnings from tourism to US$30 billion a year, to match Canadian Niagara Falls's economy.
The minister said tourism was the catalyst for the economic turnaround of Zimbabwe, adding that he hoped to kick start earnings by declaring Victoria Falls a special economic zone. Tourism is a tax haven, he said.
Africa Albida Tourism, the parent company of Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, has invested US$18 million in properties over the past three years, and work has begun on Santonga, an education, entertainment and conservation park which will interactively tell the story of Victoria Falls.
Mzembi said local operators should provide input on how to shape his proposal which could transform Victoria Falls from its current US$1 billion a year economy between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
In addition to the special economic zone, the minister said he hoped to create an "ultra-modern" Victoria Falls on 300ha adjacent to the airport, to boost infrastructure and earnings.
Mzembi assured stakeholders that the Victoria Falls and the immediate surroundings would remain natural and untouched.
Africa Albida Tourism chief executive Ross Kennedy said despite several tough years for the tourism industry, the future of tourism at Victoria Falls and in Zimbabwe was extremely bright.
"That is why we have invested millions in our products in the past few years -- our first move was to add the premium luxury Victoria Falls Safari Club which we believe sets new standards for the industry and the area in terms of quality," Kennedy said.
"Next we created the Victoria Falls Safari Suites, which are very high quality two- and three-bedroom accommodation offerings, that have plugged a gap in the market, and now we have fully refurbished and upgraded our flagship, the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.
"We are fully committed investors and operators in Victoria Falls, and we have no other intentions than to be at the top of the pile."
The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge's four-day 20th anniversary celebrations included an Amazing Race, in which six teams completed challenges at different sites in Victoria Falls, such as learning a traditional dance routine and solving a crime. It was won by Team Lokuthula.
Ground work at Santonga, to be built on 80ha near Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, began last month. The education, entertainment and conservation park, which is expected to draw 120 000 visitors a year, is due to open in June 2016.