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Thursday 31 December 2009

Albida Tourism in $12m expansion drive

AFRICA Albida Tourism (AAT) which owns the world famous Victoria Falls Safari Lodge is investing up to US$16 million in a robust expansion drive as the group positions itself to optimise benefits from the recovery of the country’s tourism industry.

AAT chief executive Ross Kennedy told at the firm’s Harare head office that the country’s tourism sector is fast recovering from the worst effects of a decade-long economic recession and adverse international publicity.

He said occupancy levels at his firm’s properties had averaged 46 percent during the “difficult years” but have since recovered remarkably, with the Victoria Falls Safari lodge now averaging about 82 percent.

“Even the United States and United Kingdom markets have bounced back with the US alone making up to 23 percent of my business in the first quarter of this year while 26 percent of our visitors came from the UK.

“Occupancies for the whole of the Victoria Falls region have spiked to 76 percent from lows of about 40 percent in the last decade,” Kennedy said.

AAT has also reopened the Bumi Hills Safari lodge in Kariba which had been closed over the last ten years and is investing up to US$16 million to expand local operations as well as venture into the region.

The investment will see the addition of 24 rooms at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge to increase capacity to 96 as well as the development of a new18-bed luxury lodge in neighbouring Bostwana.

However the main project is the US$12 million development of Santonga eco-tourism park in Victoria Falls which Kennedy described as a ‘major drawcard’ for the destination.

“Santonga will bring to the Vic Falls something that is missing at the moment, which is a genuine family oriented activity. It will absolutely please everyone from 2 year-olds to those who are a hundred years old.

“The project is a good example of what, in industry-speak, we call edutainment and encompasses wildlife, conservation and experiential activities,” Kennedy added.

Santonga is a multi-faceted eco-park that is designed to deepen visitors’ appreciation of local culture and the history of the Victoria Falls.

Key features of the project which will be located in a wildlife area include a replica of the Great Zimbabwe monuments, a reptile park, a 600-seater drumbeat amphitheatre as well as an African-themed restaurant which will seat up to 300 diners.

Kennedy said the Santonga is expected to help lengthen visitor stay in the Falls and thereby boost the country’s benefits from its prime resort.

“The average stay in the Falls is presently two-and-a-half nights. If we can get existing visitors to stay one more night - even without adding another pair of legs - that alone would boost business by up to 25 percent,” Kennedy said.

The new projects AAT is carrying out are expected to create another 140 jobs bringing the group’s overall employee numbers to 249.

“There will also be huge downstream benefits because of what will be consumed in the park, raw material supplies as well as general retail spend,” the AAT chief said.

The group also operates the Hide Lodge in Hwange National Park as well as the successful African-themed Boma restaurant located next to the Vic Falls Safari lodge.
Kennedy said there are plans to take the Boma concept to Livingstone town in Zambia and South Africa’s Cape Town.