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Saturday 31 December 2016

Tourists spend $800m in a year

The total spending by visitors to Zimbabwe was over $800 million in the period July 2015 to June 2016, with the bulk of them coming to visit friends and relatives, a new report has shown.
Tourists take a safari drive in Hwange National Park.
Tourists take a safari drive in Hwange National Park.
Each visitor was spending an average of $385 per stay and 2 106 975 people visited the country during the period, according to the Zimbabwe Visitor Exit Survey (VES) Report 2015/16.
It showed that 31,1% of visitors to Zimbabwe were coming to visit friends and relatives, while 18,2% were here for holiday leisure.
The VES Report 2015/16 was a project undertaken by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, the African Development Bank and the Tourism ministry to ascertain the level of tourism in the country and identify areas of improvement.
It covered the period July 2015 to June this year.
“33% of visitors either stayed with friends or relatives. Commercial accommodation such as hotels, lodges, chalets and camps accounted for 22% of all the accommodation used by the visitors,” the report said.
As such, an overall of 42% of visitors did not utilise any commercial accommodation, which included excursionists, visitors who slept in coaches/buses, trucks, cars and churches, thus cutting costs. Usually when travelling, accommodation is the biggest cost incurred.
The VES Report 2015/16 found that 83,7% of visitors spent $500 or less, while 41,8% spent $50 or less during their stay.
“The highest expenditure was on food and beverages accounting for 28%, followed by accommodation at 18%. Visitors from Oceania region were the highest spenders at $1 354, followed by those from Europe with an average expenditure of $909. The least spenders were visitors from Africa, with an average expenditure of $310,” the report said.
Another reason behind the low expenditure was that as the major source market of visitors was the African region with 80,7%, a large proportion of them did not utilise any commercial accommodation.
Visitors from overseas markets were found to utilise commercial accommodation, with the exception of United Kingdom, with 52,1% staying with friends and relatives.
“Although the proportion of visitors from African countries was the highest (80,7%) their average length of stay was the lowest, 7,6 nights. Visitors from Zambia (37,4%), South Africa (16,3%), Malawi (29,3%) and Botswana (3,8%) did not spend any money in Zimbabwe which agrees with findings that majority of visitors merely come to sightsee the country while spending money in neighbouring countries,” the report said
Visitors from the same countries spent between $1 and $50, while in the overseas countries, the United States had more visitors with low expenditure.
Harare, with 29,1% visitors, edged out Victoria Falls (27,9%) and Bulawayo (22,6%), as the most visited destination in the country.
The report found that 80,6% of visitors used cash during their stay, while 5,8% used plastic money.
For holiday/leisure visitors, the average expenditure per person per trip was $681.
However, the highest average expenditure was by visitors from South Africa at $1 081 followed by those from Denmark ($936), the United Kingdom ($857), Australia ($848) and the United States ($800).
Source: Tourists spend $800m in a year (30/12/16)

New Years Dilemma at Victoria Falls

Melissa Mpofu in Victoria Falls

The resort town of Victoria Falls is a hive of activity as it is hosting two mega events, the Jameson Vic Falls Carnival and the Fallin’16 festival.

The events which began on Thursday with parties in town have attracted a host of tourists from different countries, giving the town so much life.

Most hotels and tour operators are smiling all the way to the bank as they are fully booked. The town’s residents have not been left out as most locals who could not afford the hefty hotel prices are booked at their homes.

While most events organised locally seem to be failing to grow, the carnival, now in its fifth year, has managed to pitch itself as a must-go-to event —especially for tourists. Two years ago, the event was featured by CNN as one of the best festivals in Africa — putting a lot of spotlight on them.
That was the year the event was graced by notable socialites from South Africa including Bonang Matheba.

Carnival spokesperson — Emmanuel Tivatyi said it took a lot of hard work and commitment for them to brand themselves in a way that would appeal to foreigners.

“We were quick to take up international trends like online booking and working on packages suitable for tourists because that’s the language they understand,” Tivatyi said.

“It’s not easy organising events. A lot of systems need to be put in place and we always meet to ensure that things go the way we want them to. Team work and reliable partners has got us this far.”
But, what has made the carnival unique and more appealing is the activities on offer. The advantage of holding the event on a holiday and in a resort town is that people are always kept occupied with other activities — putting less pressure on show organisers. During the day, carnival attendees spend their time bungee jumping, water rafting, walking in the rain forest or flying above the Vic Falls and diving with crocodiles — depending on one’s wallet. Those who prefer relaxing can do so at hotels, most which have views to die for, especially those along the Zambezi River.

Food lovers are spoilt for choice as there are a lot of new restaurants with international standards. On top of the list is the Shearwater Café and KFC which recently opened shop opposite the Kingdom Hotel.

Tivatyi said the introduction of big brands like KFC was a welcome development.
“At times, visitors feel good when they see names they’re used to so having KFC in Vic Falls is a positive development. A lot of people are thrilled by the restaurant and our hope is that more similar players come through.”

On this year’s carnival attendance, Tivatyi said about 4 000 revellers had come through adding that more were still buying tickets. Last year, the carnival attracted about 3 500 people.
“Business is booming in Vic Falls. Though this year’s carnival did not reach its full potential because of the economic crisis, we’re not complaining.

“A lot of people benefit immensely from the hosting of this event, especially activity suppliers who’re having record numbers because carnival goers are adventurous party freaks,” said Tivatyi.
The setback so far for the carnival has been the attempt of a train party from Bulawayo where carnivalists were meant to be ferried to the resort town in style, dancing and drinking till they arrive.

That did not happen as only 15 people signed up for the party which was poorly marketed. As a result, the coach which has the disco was left behind — leaving the 15 to entertain themselves in a quiet and empty coach. However, their mood soon changed upon arrival at midday on Thursday. Carnival festivities began with a beach party by the riverside where music was played as carnivalists downed their sundowners while enjoying the warm weather and watching the sun set. Afterwards, parties were held across town with the main action being at Shoestrings were a welcome party was held.

Yesterday, the 15 from Bulawayo had another go in the train, this time for the real train party as carnivalists where ferried from the Vic Falls Train station to Jafuta — about 30kms out of Vic Falls for a train and bush party.

While carnival festivities were going on, Fallin’16 —another festival held to shut down the year was running concurrently at the Rest Camp. The outdoor event saw people being treated to quality music from Vic Falls DJ Spevah and Harare group — Trill Angel among many other entertainers.

Though it would seem as if Fallin’16 is a counter attraction, the event is actually a positive development as it has a vibe that is different from the carnival —giving the tourists and locals real value for their money as they are spoilt for choice. Fallin’16 which is being headlined by Winky D tomorrow has a more local touch to it while carnival has mostly foreign bands.

Source: Carnival, Fallin’16 liven up Vic Falls (31/12/16)

Tuesday 27 December 2016

35 elephants captured from Hwange on a 'Flight to Hell'

Zimbabwe - Under cover of darkness on the night before Christmas Eve, 35 young elephants, some believed to be as young as 3 years old, were transported from Hwange to Victoria Falls airport for a flight to China. But it wasn’t to be the secret mission shrouded in tight security that Zimbabwean officials had hoped for. This ‘Flight to Hell’ was soon all over social media, while Zimbabweans slept.

Our investigations revealed that the first to post public news of this was Sharon Pincott, who worked with the Presidential Elephants of Zimbabwe in Hwange for 13 years but left in 2014 frustrated by unethical practices. She was in a different time zone and therefore wide awake. By the time Zimbabweans awoke, her Facebook post had been shared hundreds of times. Other sites were quick to spread the news which has enraged the world.

“Do they seriously think that they can keep doing this sort of thing now without people speaking out? There are a long list of people, from all walks of life, from both the sending and receiving countries who are horrified that ripping young elephants from their families continues to happen. It doesn’t take much anymore to get news out once an operation like this is in full swing,” said Pincott when we spoke to her.

“Those poor elephants were in tiny crates for more hours than I can bear to even think about, while there was delay after delay getting them loaded at Victoria Falls airport. Such Zimbabwean inefficiency and lack of care, on top of everything else, is unforgivable and alarming,” she said.

The elephants were eventually flown out to China on a Russian-registered Boeing 747.

Another source who asked to remain anonymous said, “There is much more to this than meets the eye.”

Indeed, here at the Zimbabwean we ran an article in May 2015 which implicated a Chinese national, Li Song, as one of those involved –

Yet another source who also asked to remain anonymous told The Zimbabwean that there is increasing evidence to support the theory that the involvement of one of Li Song’s business associates may end up being even more shocking, in this lucrative market of elephants and elephant products.

“We are looking closely into tying all of the pieces of this extensive puzzle together, including the involvement of some other Parks Authority and Ministry personnel, not yet publicly named,” our source declared.

Source: Thirty-five Hwange elephants flew from Victoria Falls to China on a “Flight to Hell” (27/12/16)

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Christmas Past at the Victoria Falls

By Peter Roberts

This is an extended version of an article which was first published in the 2015 Christmas issue of the Zambezi Traveller, available to download (together with this year's Christmas issue and all past issues of the publication) here.

A Christmas trip to the Victoria Falls has been a tradition for many since the railway opened the Falls to tourism in 1904.

The first recorded excursion was arranged from Bulawayo in December 1903, six months before the railhead actually reached the Falls, and before either the hotel or bridge had been erected. The group would have travelled by train to Hwange, which had been reached by the construction gangs earlier in the same month, before travelling onward to the Falls by horse-driven coach service for the remaining 68 miles to the Victoria Falls.

An early source recorded; "...travellers to the Zambezi were informed that the round trip from Bulawayo would take twelve days. The management of the Grand Hotel, Bulawayo, packed attractive baskets of food, but as fresh meat would not keep indefinitely, tourists were counselled to shoot giraffe and hippo... enterprising fishermen could add to the larder by catching tigerfish - 'an appetising dish.'"

The Christmas party would have camped at the Falls, perhaps near the Big Tree, a popular meeting point in those early days. All hunting and shooting, was prohibited within a five mile radius of the Falls in an effort to protect and conserve their natural beauty, as indeed was the construction of permanent buildings. This did not stop the Railway Company, however, from erecting a small wood and iron hotel overlooking the gorges and rising spray of the Falls.

Christmas picnic at the Falls, 1903 (Shepherd, 2013)

Christmas 1904 would have seen a slightly different scene, with the railway at the Falls and the Victoria Falls Hotel six month's old. Construction of the Victoria Falls Bridge was well underway. The gorge was connected by means of a cable transporter system, with electric conveyor, to ferry people and materials to the northern bank, and a large number of European engineers and railwaymen were based on both sides of the Falls. 

A well-establish American publication recorded: “That tourists are now making their way to this spot in Central Africa to see for themselves the eighth wonder of the world, as the Victoria Falls have been rightly termed, is made clear after a chat with the present hotel proprietor. Last Christmas there were considerably over a hundred persons staying at the hotel, many of whom had to sleep in tents and temporary annexes, so crowded was the building itself.” 

To entertain the crowds a Christmas sports day was held, with live music provided by a band from Bulawayo, and lunchtime picnic under shade of Palm Grove. 'Sport' events included several horse races, tug-of-war, a 'walking race,' the very popular 'bun and treacle race' - which involved the eating of a series of buns, made by local Livingstone baker Smith & James, covered in treacle and hung on strings - and the 'water bucket challenge' where the participant had to remove a pole without tipping a balancing bucket of water and getting soaked, all whilst passing underneath in a wheel barrow (as shown in 'Old Frontier Life in North Western Rhodesia, by Shepherd, 2013).

Christmas day at the Victoria Falls Hotel would have been a memorable occasion. The manager, Pierre Gavuzzi, was an Italian, the chef was a Frenchman, the barman came from Chicago, and the waiters mainly Indian. With Gavuzzi's reputation for fine cuisine, the menu would have been superb, with fresh foods supplied by train from Bulawayo and beyond, and would have no doubt included strawberries, which Gavuzzi grew on a plot near the Hotel. The dining room, in those days a converted railway shed, had its own electric lights and fans, and hot and cold water added to the comfort of guests lucky enough to be staying in one of the hotel's twelve rooms.

Ten years later in 1916 and a more sedate Christmas was spent in the nearly completed new brick buildings of the Victoria Falls Hotel. The buildings, which were to replace the original iron and wood hotel, were near completion but not yet furnished or officially opened.

One of a handful of guests in the old Hotel buildings at the time recalled how the manager cleared a corner in the new dining room and served Christmas dinner. This was the first meal served in the Hotel's current dining room, now known as the Livingstone Room. The room was designed to echo some of the features of the original railway shed which had so famously served as the Hotel's first dining room, including the high oval ventilation windows.

These days Christmas is an altogether busier affair, and if you are lucky enough to be staying at the Hotel or in the Falls, pause to think of those first early travellers, camped under the stars under the rising spray from the Falls, and be thankful you don't have to catch your own Christmas dinner!

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

Minor Hotel Group Acquires Avani Livingstone Hotels

LIVINGSTONE, ZAMBIA - Minor Hotel Group (MHG) has taken over both AVANI Victoria Falls Resort and Royal Livingstone Victoria Falls Zambia Hotel by Anantara in Livingstone.
The Group, which bought the two renowned entities from Sun International, has since pledged to attract more tourists to Zambia from around the globe because of its experience in the global hospitality industry.
AVANI Victoria Falls Resort, which was previously known as Zambezi Sun Hotel under Sun International ownership, is a four star hotel while the Royal Livingstone Victoria Falls Zambia Hotel by Anantara is a five star hotel.
Minor Hotel Zambia General Manager Emmanuelle Moneger said the group had bought 100 per cent shares in AVANI Victoria Falls Resort and Royal Livingstone Victoria Falls Zambia Hotel by Anantara from Sun International.
Speaking in an interview in Livingstone, Ms Moneger said there was increased hope that the change of ownership would open up new markets which would in turn increase tourist arrivals to Zambia.
"Now we are 100 per cent under Minor Hotel Group and Sun International no longer own shares in the two Hotels.
"For 2017 and beyond, we are hopeful that more tourists and other guests will come here because we are expected to open new doors and new markets," Ms Moneger said.
She said 640 staff had already undergone orientation and induction in line with the new business being managed by the group.
Ms Moneger said Minor Hotel Group had big goals to achieve in the next two years by investing in Africa in setting up 45 hotels.
And Ms Moneger said Minor Hotel Zambia would next year reopen and start running Squires Steak House restaurant located within its premises.
Previously, Sun International Zambia had subcontracted the closed premises but the group has indicated that it has capacity to start running it.
"During the first six months of 2017, we will start running Squires Steak House restaurant. It was within our premises but run by other people who were outsourced.
Source: Minor Hotel Group Acquires Vic Falls, Royal L/Stone Hotels (19/12/16)

Saturday 10 December 2016

Vintage Air Rally do Vic Falls fly-over

Cape Town - A dozen biplanes taking part in a Vintage Air Rally (VAR)  are bound for a Cape Town Grand Finale on the 16th of December, having just done a world first fly-over the Victoria Falls. 

The aircraft dating from the 1920s and 1930s took off on November 12 from the Greek island of Crete on their 13 000 kilometre (8 000-mile) journey to Cape Town.

The Vintage Air Rally has in just under a month been following in the footsteps of the pioneering flights of the 1920s – which connect some of the most beautiful and evocative points in Africa.

It is the largest group of vintage biplanes to attempt the journey across Africa, with teams from a dozen countries including Britain, Canada, France, Germany, South Africa and the United States.

Vintage planes and classic cars

They've flown low along the Nile from Cairo to Khartoum, past the highlands of Ethiopia, the plains of Kenya and the home of African aviation in Nairobi.

Their journey has taken them past Kilimanjaro into the Serengeti – and on to the spice island of Zanzibar.

And now after crossing Zambia to Victoria Falls, and being met VAR arrived in Bulawayo and met by the Matabeleland Vintage & Classic Car Club in Bulawayo, they're set to end their journey in stunning Cape Town.  

One of the pilots, Mark Oostingh, posted to the ZS-DNP VintageAirRally Crete2Cape Facebook page saying, "The flight over Vic Falls was not cleared for low level flying initially but yesterday (Thursday) we were cleared for less than 500 ft over them. It was an iconic flight.

Iconic Vic Falls flight

According to Oostingh they formed a 3 ship formation with 2 Travelairs over the falls and did a pass at 200ft, all being filmed by the Antenov camera ship and the helicopter. Click here to see the footage

"Flying over the Vic Falls at 6000ft above sea level. (The wavy quality is due to the prop wash). We were not allowed any lower. Today, as the Vintage Air Rally leaves Zim, they are permitted to fly over the falls again but they have to be BELOW 500ft above ground level. That should be amazing. The water level is quite low but standing in front of it is still spectacular."

The rally is working with the charity BirdLife International to raise awareness about the plight of the African vulture, with seven out of its 11 species currently on the edge of extinction. Each pilot is matching themselves to an endangered vulture, and each landing en route will highlight the issue.

Source: Vintage Air Rally do Vic Falls fly-over (09/12/16)

Friday 9 December 2016

New-look Vic Falls Airport attracts Ethiopian Airlines

Leonard Ncube in Victoria Falls

AFRICA’S largest airline group, Ethiopian Airlines will, starting March next year, fly four times a week to Victoria Falls.

The new-look Victoria Falls International Airport continues to attract new airlines since its commissioning by President Mugabe last month.

In a statement, Ethiopian Airlines group chief executive officer Mr Tewolde Gebre Mariam said its latest wide bodied B737-800 will land in Zimbabwe’s prime tourist town on March 26.

“Ethiopian Airlines is pleased to announce that it will start four weekly flights to Victoria Falls as of March 26, 2017, with the latest B737-800 New Generation with Sky Interior,” said the chief executive officer.

The East African airliner is one of the first few companies, alongside RwandaAir, that showed interest and opened discussions with the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) at a recent 48th Africa Airlines Association (AFRAA) Annual General Assembly about flying into Zimbabwe taking advantage of refurbished facilities.

“It’s a continuation of our efforts to achieve the goal of connecting Africa to the world by adding multiple points in Africa and serving air connectivity needs of the continent.

“Tourist travellers and vacationers from major cities in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa will enjoy hassle-free connections to Victoria Falls via our strategic hub at Addis Ababa,” said Mr Gebre Mariam.

He said their goal was to expand network in Africa to ‘promote and facilitate growth in the business and tourism sectors’ in terms of the airline’s ‘15 years growth strategy, Vision 2025.

The schedule will see Ethiopian Airlines flying between Victoria Falls and Addis Ababa on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

It will depart Addis Ababa at 8.15AM and arrive in Victoria Falls at 12.15 PM on a direct flight while departing Victoria Falls at 1PM via Gaborone in Botswana and arrive in Addis Ababa at 9.30PM
Mr Mariam said the airliner will be offering tour packages, that are available to the major African tourist destinations such as Mombasa, Zanzibar, Kilimanjaro, Dar-es-Salaam, Johannesburg, Maputo, Nairobi and Cairo.

Ethiopian Airlines is the fastest growing and leading carrier Airlines in Africa having been in the industry for seven decades.

It commands the biggest pan-African passenger and cargo network operating the youngest and most modern fleet across five continents.

Its fleet includes ultra-modern and environmentally friendly aircraft such as Airbus A350, Boeing 787, Boeing 777-300ER, Boeing 777-200LR, Boeing 777-200 Freighter, Bombardier Q-400 double cabin with an average fleet age of five years, which it also owns.

CAAZ public relations manager Mrs Anna Julia Hungwe, who was in Victoria Falls yesterday, said the aviation authority was excited about the development.

She said besides Ethiopian Airlines, RwandaAir had also confirmed that it will start flying into Harare early January while Kenyan Airways was also working on finalising the process of establishing a direct flight into Victoria Falls.

“We are actually excited by the new look airport and the interest shown by airlines,” she said.
While commissioning the airport, President Mugabe challenged the Ministries of Transport and Tourism as well as CAAZ to market the airport and bring in tourists and airlines.

The Government has also facilitated the upgrading of the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo and Buffalo Range Airport in Masvingo province as part of its key infrastructure projects under Zim-Asset.

Source: New-look Vic Falls Airport attracts Ethiopian Airlines (08/12/16)

Thursday 8 December 2016

KFC opens branch in Victoria Falls

Florence Ncube in Victoria Falls (The Chronicle)

INTERNATIONAL fast food chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has opened a branch in Victoria Falls, the sixth outlet in Zimbabwe. The new business has already created 30 jobs for locals, management said.

Representatives of tour operators as well as players in the tourism industry in Victoria Falls witnessed the official opening of the branch at Total Service Station along Livingstone way on Monday.

KFC Victoria Falls manager Mr Taurai Vaki said the other five branches are all in Harare, with plans underway to open one in Bulawayo, which was shut down a few years ago. He said the business now boasts of 1 000 outlets in Africa.

“We have five outlets in Harare and now we have also managed to open this branch in Victoria Falls as we expand our business,” he said.

“We hope that this venture will be successful enough to let us launch another outlet in Bulawayo before moving to other smaller towns,” said Mr Vaki.

Victoria Falls Mayor Councillor Sifiso Mpofu was happy that all the 30 workers at KFC Victoria Falls were from the town.

The business community expressed hope that the launch of KFC as a service provider would complement numerous other players such as restaurant and fast food outlets in the tourist town in terms of offering options for tourists.

The local leadership, however, warned the management at KFC against bussing in people from other towns to take up jobs at the expense of locals.

Source: KFC opens branch in Victoria Falls (08/12/16)

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

(6th December 2016)

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.

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

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.’ 

Cataract Island and rainbow

- - -

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,' [published in July 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.

An extended version of this article can be found on

Zim still to complete aerodrome certification of Victoria Falls airport

INTERNATIONAL Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has implored Zimbabwe to follow proper procedures to complete the aerodrome certification of the newly commissioned Victoria Falls International Airport.
By Fidelity Mhlanga
Aerodrome certification is aimed at ensuring that the facilities, procedures and personnel comply with prevailing regulations and that appropriate protocols are followed to minimise the risks associated with aircraft operations at the airfield.
Regional director of ICAO Eastern and Southern African Regional (ESAF) Office, Barry Kashambo, said this during the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) conference in Victoria Falls last week.
“ICAO congratulates the republic and people of Zimbabwe on the great achievement of the new Victoria Falls airport and we shall perform our duty to ensure the authorities follow the proper procedures to complete the aerodrome certification process as required,” he said.
ICAO works with the convention’s 191 member states and industry groups to reach consensus on international civil aviation Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) and policies in support of a safe, efficient, secure, economically sustainable and environmentally responsible civil aviation sector.
Research shows the advantages of obtaining an aerodrome certification are manifold, ranging from economic advantages to operating efficiency advantages. However, the main advantage lies in the satisfaction of offering airlines and passengers the possibility of using an increasingly safe airport thanks to the operational safety management system’s maintenance.
It is highly advisable to make a significant investment to reach the objective of certifying an aerodrome, which can hardly be carried out by the airport’s personnel due to the daily work load it entails
The role of airline operators, suppliers, service providers, and regulators was critical in implementing the ICAO standards and recommended practices.
Managing partner of Ernst and Young Ethiopia and head of transaction advisory Zemedeneh Negatu said airlines are businesses, regardless of the ownership, therefore they must be run as business models.
“There are too many examples of African airlines going bankrupt due to bad governance (i.e.interference by governments, incompetent management),” Negatu said.
He added that many African airlines have weak balance sheets and operational performances and sub-optimal or no credit experience, thereby posing major challenges in the financing of African carriers.
There are reasons why African airlines must be run on a commercial basis, regardless of ownership (private or state owned).
African airlines are too small and therefore must create “bulk” by merging and/or creating alliances to enhance their long-term viability.
“The days of “standalone” African airlines aiming to be “long haul trunk carriers” and “flag bearers” is no longer realistic. The industry is too globalised, rapidly changing, highly safety conscience, highly regulated and too capital intensive,”he said.
African airlines need hundreds of new airplanes in the next 20 years costing more than US$70 billion.
While there is still a possibility of three major airline groups in Africa by 2020, South African Airways and Kenya Airways need to make significant strategic shifts to their current operational performances to remain major profitable carriers by 2020.
Poor airport infrastructure such as lighting and navigation equipment makes airline operations expensive in Africa, said Negatu.
Very few airports in Africa have 500 000 passengers per year, the level needed to make them viable.
Charges for landing, flying and handling, according to Negatu, are high compared to the US and Europe, making airline operations expensive in Africa.
“If the EU has Open Skies within Europe and the US, why can’t there be ‘Africa Open Skies’ for airlines from African Union (AU) member countries?” he queried.

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.