Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Adjust or Fall Away - the Story of Victoria Falls

By Sydeny Kawadza
Source: All Africa

A debate between Zimbabweans and Zambians rages when they compare each other's side of the Victoria Falls. It's a typical David and Goliath story.

On one side are the best of hotels and other infrastructure which match world class standards, the other is a pale shadow with nothing to write home about in terms of magnificence and glamour; or to use the anatomical figurativeness, regarding the majestic Seventh Wonder of the World, the Victoria Falls, of a woman facing Zimbabwe and having her back to Zambia.

Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi made that hilarious comparison in 2014. It is the case of Victoria Falls in the former case and Livingstone, across the river in Zambia.

Zimbabwe could do well to maintain its place as the better of the two sides, having all the ingredients of a world class tourist destination yet a combination of economic factors and decisions are threatening to turn the tables.

Minister Mzembi and other authorities have long called for the arresting of the situation especially with regards to pricing regimes in Zimbabwe which is exacerbated by macro-policies such as the mandatory Value Added Tax.

Take nightlife in the two neighbours for example and one will see how Zimbabwe could end up disingenuously losing out. Victoria Falls is getting quieter by the day. Across the bridge, Livingstone is slowly picking up. Having visited Victoria Falls close to three years, the change is palpable.

One can only reminisce when nightlife competed with the mighty Victoria Falls. The tourist activities in the resort town are just too many, but so exhausting that a night out for a cold Zambezi Lager could cap a good and worthwhile day.

It is this life that was the highlight of a visit to Victoria Falls. It is the night time that the small town would be alive when tourists hop from one bar to the next.

"That life is long gone, my brother! The small number of tourist you see now are in town for the food which is slightly cheaper from the hotels or for those trying something different," Marcelo Ndlovu, a taxi driver said. "By 10pm everything will be quiet and most of the people would be sleeping."

Indeed, Victoria Falls sleeps shortly after 10 o'clock. A reveller would alternatively seek solace in Chinotimba or Mkhosane suburbs, but it's a long shot to "ecstasy". The shops at Sinemane Centre are run down and no "joy" is guaranteed.

At Busi Shopping Centre, the effort is there, but besides the few revellers joined by vendors targeting the late night travellers waiting for Harare and Bulawayo-bound buses, no "joy" is guaranteed.

"Everything has changed from what we had been used to. Even in town it is so quiet and unbelievably so. Victoria Falls was so vibrant, but everything is in the past," Chenai Teguru said.

In the 1990s, DT Club was the place to go, then there was, the Explorers then wooed the "joy-seekers" and even the Victoria Falls Club drew a sizeable crowd.

"Everything is gone. We understand the other bar is going to close down so the hotel can turn it into a casino. It is sad and that should explain the silence that has engulfed the town," John Tshlolani said.

A one night stay in Livingstone proves quite the opposite from Victoria Falls. The tourists are teeming and the town is the liveliest between the "twins".

One of the night spots, 7/ 11 draws the largest crowd since the band Lloyd and The No Parking Band trekked "down south" to Livingstone where it is all happening.

The band will be based at 7 /11, a modest restaurant and bar to Zimbabwean standards, for the next six month.

In Zimbabwe, no live band has dared to move to Victoria Falls since the days of Mandebvu and Harare Mambos.

That explains a lot, doesn't it?

Josiah Phiri, a foreign currency dealer, acknowledges that Livingstone has stolen the thunder from Victoria Falls.

"We admit there are better hotels, infrastructure and other goods in Zimbabwe, but they are very expensive that even Zimbabweans travel to Zambia for basic commodities," he said.

Phiri admitted that the forex business is not that lucrative as the US-Kwacha exchange rate is always fluctuating.

However, the tourist influx is huge. On average accommodation is between US$16 to US$70 for a budget traveller.

On average, accommodation in Victoria Falls is US$90 for a single bed and breakfast booking. The food in Livingstone is relatively cheaper with a quarter chicken and chips costing US$3,50 compared to US$5 in Victoria Falls.

A Mosi Lager sells for US60c compared to US$1 for a pint of Zambezi Lager in Victoria Falls. A pint of beer can go up to US$4 in Victoria Falls.

Victoria Falls-based businessman Tonderai Mutasa believes Livingstone has an advantage after Zambia devalued their Kwacha.

"The devaluation of the Zambian Kwacha has made their destination cheaper in all facets. Foreigners are also allowed to buy their goods in local currency and this gives them an opportunity to get more than what they can in Zimbabwe with the same United States dollars," Mutasa.

He said Livingstone Airport has more direct flights compared to Victoria Falls Airport and that also contributes to the numbers going up.

"The Zambians are aggressively marketing the Victoria Falls and this could be the reason why Livingston is getting more tourists than Victoria Falls," he said.

Employers Association for Tour and Safari Operators president Clement Mkwasi said Zambia had a weak currency at the moment.

"It is cheaper to spend in Zambia than Zimbabwe so we really need to revisit our pricing regime by making sure that there is a three tier system. International, regional and domestic prices should be different," he said.

"Our major source market is South Africa. They have been stung by the weakening Rand. It is best that there be a price distinction which is our sensitive to our markets."

Most residents and businesspeople called on Government to revisit the country's visa fees.

Government last year put the KAZA uni-visa system that was popular with visitors to Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia.

The trial run ended in December last year.

The Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier uni-visa was an arrangement where a visitor pays visa fees once and enters different countries on different occasions.

According to the Zimbabwe visa regime Category B visitors from UK/Ireland pay US$55 for single entry and US$70 for double entry.

Visitors from Canada pay US$75 for single entry while the rest of the world pays US$30 and US$45 for single and double entries respectively.

The KAZA uni-visa regime costs US$50 for multiple entry between Zimbabwe and Zambia.

All countries in Category B get visas at point of entry and they are the countries targeted by the KAZA.

Minister Mzembi has urged Treasury to consider scrapping off the 15 percent tourism levy on accommodation in Zimbabwe. The tourism industry is one of the key sectors of the economy which contributes an average of $1 billion annually despite the negative economic climate.

The levy has led to a sharp increase in accommodation leading to tourist flight to Zambia.

Source: Adjust or Fall Away - the Story of Victoria Falls (16/05/16)

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