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Thursday 28 September 2017

Harare-Victoria Falls shorter route opened

Government has opened a shorter route that links Harare and Victoria Falls under the Emergency State Roads Rehabilitation Programme.

The Harare-Kwekwe-Gokwe Chirisa-Cross Dete to Victoria Falls Road was completed recently, giving travellers an option rather than go the longer way via Bulawayo.

Government is on course to finish the rehabilitation of the national road network before the commencement of the rains under the Emergency State Roads Rehabilitation Programme, a senior official at the District Development Fund (DDF) has said.

Government is currently on the second phase of rehabilitating the road network after extensive damage by Cyclone Dineo-induced rains early this year, the same official said.

President Mugabe earlier in the year declared the roads a State of Emergency, paving way for financial resource mobilisation.

DDF national deputy director planning Philemon Mubvumi said the Zireva-Huchu-Masakadza Road in Gokwe South was the shortest route that links Victoria Falls and Harare.

The road that links the capital and the grand tourist attraction is 875 kilometres, but the new route opened by DDF will be approximately 780km, about 100km less.

"The new road has a lot of economic value to the country as it also links with Chirisa Game Reserve," said Mr Mubvumbi. "We expect to finish the whole project before the start of the rainy season."

Government finished construction of Pohwe Bridge on the new road in 1998, but the road was not being used as the access to the bridge was left undone.

Last week, DDF opened the new road expected to bring a lot of economic activity to the people of Gokwe and other surrounding areas.

Chirisa Game Reserve has also been under-utilised because of the poor road infrastructure.

DDF Midlands provincial coordinator Mrs Molly Shoniwa said the opening of the road and a number of roads that were being rehabilitated in her province would bring positive results, especially in agriculture.

Source: Harare-Victoria Falls shorter route opened (27/09/17)

Wednesday 27 September 2017

More tourists, more exports cheer up Zim

Gold production, exports and tourist arrivals are up in Zimbabwe, giving the struggling economy a much-needed reprieve from foreign currency and cash shortages.

Tourist arrivals were higher in the first half of the year, giving a major boost to the country’s foreign currency receipts. According to a report released by Africa Albida Tourism, the newly upgraded Victoria Falls Airport has increased its capacity by more than 125000 passenger seats a year.

“A sizeable drop in local arrivals has been masked by significant growth in international arrivals on the Zimbabwean side. International tourist arrivals to Victoria Falls rose 17percent in 2016 and have gained an additional 32percent in the first six months of 2017,” the report said. Regional and international airlines that use Victoria Falls include Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, South Africa’s Airlink, British Airways, Air Zimbabwe, South African Airways, Fastjet and Air Namibia.

Fidelity Printers said Zimbabwe’s gold production for the first eight months of 2017 increased 10% to 14.6 tons. Fidelity Printers is a unit of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, which is the country’s sole buyer of gold.

Zimbabwe is eyeing about 24tons of gold this year, and bullion output was about 2.5tons in August, the highest monthly production in this current. “Last month, gold deliveries reached a record high of 2.5tons and exports went up by 17percent,” Jonathan Moyo, a cabinet minister, tweeted.

Zimbabwe is also a significant producer of platinum, nickel, chrome and coal. The government has been battling to contain cash shortages despite the introduction of more bond notes and coins.

Losing ground

The bond currency has been losing ground on the parallel market, with prices going up as 
 businesses factor in the cost of buying hard currency on the informal currency market.
The stronger gold mining performance has been aided by mining firms’ focus on increasing production by restructuring. Mzi Khumalo’s Metallon, which runs four mines in Zimbabwe, has said the restructuring of its business was part of a strategy to increase efficiencies. “As part of this restructuring exercise, each of Metallon’s four operating mines will now operate as separate entities. By making the mines standalone operations, Metallon will increase efficiency,” it said this month.

Sunday 24 September 2017

Airport upgrade spurs 35% uptick in passenger traffic

THE recently-commissioned $150 million Victoria Falls International Airport has experienced a 35% increase in passenger traffic within a few months of its launch, an official has said.
Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) public relations and communications manager, Annajulia Hungwe told NewsDay in e-mailed responses that the airport, commissioned in November last year, had started recording brisk business, registering a 35% increase in passenger traffic.
“The airport has experienced a 35% increase in passenger traffic. Victoria Falls is poised to be the regional hub in Southern Africa so CAAZ jointly with industry players are working together to market the airport,” Hungwe said.
“Of note is a group attending the Routes World this month to jointly (market) the destination of Victoria Falls and the airport,” she said.
Hungwe said the airport was even attracting school children from across the country, a sign that it has become a game changer in the region.
“Yes, the airport now attracts many school children from as far as Harare. School children pay $1 each. This small fee is just to take care of the airport’s cleanliness, tissues etc,” she said.
She added that Victoria Falls was receiving enquiries from different airlines for a Zimbabwean air service permit.
The same also applies to Harare and even Buffalo Range airports, she said.
The multi-million airport boasts a new 4km long by 60m wide runway and associated taxiways, capable of landing long haul wide-bodied aircraft, aircraft parking area with a capacity to park three wide-bodied aircraft in the class of the B747, B777 and Airbus, A340 or equivalent.
It has a refurbished domestic terminal with a capacity of 300 000 passengers per annum, new state of the art control tower, new fire station, new car park and new access roads.
Its new international terminal has capacity to service 1,5 million people per annum.
Victoria Falls has been luring airlines after the completion of the airport upgrade.
In March, South African Airways became the first airline to fly a wide-bodied aircraft in the mould of A330-200 to Victoria Falls.
The aircraft has a capacity of 222 passengers.
Africa’s leading carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, introduced four weekly flights to the resort town beginning March 27.
Kenyan Airways introduced three weekly flights between Nairobi and Victoria Falls on May 1.
In July, Airlink began a six day service to the resort town from Cape Town.

Saturday 23 September 2017

Ministers derail NRZ revival

THE $400 million deal to recapitalise the National Railways of Zimbabwe has been thrown into jeopardy, after rival suitors for the parastatal, fronted by Cabinet ministers, launched a last-minute bid to abort the transaction.

The ministers are pushing for the involvement of China Railway Eryuan Engineering Corporation (CREEC), which did not participate in the bidding process and Sinohydro, which took part in the tender but lost out. CREEC signed an agreement with NRZ for railway network planning and rehabilitation of four corridors, including the supply of traction and rolling stock and other equipment in May 2015.

The company undertook a feasibility study which initially put the project cost at $750 million. The figure was subsequently reduced to $324 million.

The derailment of the NRZ’s revival programme risks damaging and expensive litigation for government should it decide to cancel the tender. The country also stands to lose its strategic geographical advantage which makes it a potential regional hub.

As President Robert Mugabe’s government bickers and dithers over the rail project, Zimbabwe’s neighours are investing in networks to bypass the country.

On Zimbabwe’s western border, Botswana is pursuing a $260 million road-rail link with Zambia, while the African Development Bank (AfDB) is funding Mozambique’s Nacala rail project, to link that country with Malawi and, potentially, Zambia by extension.

The Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG) — a consortium of 500 non-resident Zimbabwean professionals — in partnership with South Africa’s Transnet, was last month announced winner of the NRZ recapitalisation tender.

However, multiple sources told The Financial Gazette this week that Mugabe’s Cabinet has held back signing off on the deal after spirited opposition led by Information 
Communications and Technology Minister, Supa Mandiwanzira, Macro-Economic Planning and Investment Promotion Minister Obert Mpofu and Labour Minister Prisca Mupfumira.
Transport Minister Joram Gumbo, who sought Cabinet approval for the deal last week, failed to defend it against the onslaught from ministers opposed to it.

“After a sustained onslaught, mainly from the trio, Gumbo failed to defend the transaction,” one source said.

“This prompted the President to ask the minister to go back and review.”

Another source said ministers opposed to the DIDG-Transnet-NRZ deal raised three main issues — financial and technical capacity as well as a five percent royalty payment due to the government of Zimbabwe annually, for the duration of the 25-year project.

“This is despite the fact that the tender documents bear evidence of availability of funds and financial backing from major South African bank, Standard Bank, Rand Merchant Bank, Nedbank and development financier, Industrial Development Corporation,” the source said.
Documents seen by The Financial Gazette show that the institutions’ financial backing for the transaction exceeds $1 billion, far more than the scope of the NRZ recapitalisation.

“It was evident, early on, Minister Gumbo was not sufficiently prepared to make the case for this transaction. In the end, he came just short of disowning it.”

Apart from enjoying the technical expertise of Transnet, DIDG, is led by professionals currently involved in billion-dollar deals in South Africa and east Africa. Mpofu, a former transport minister weighed in, saying an abortive deal between NRZ and the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) had been a better proposition. 

The $700 million DBSA loan deal, which fell through a few years ago, was priced at 16 percent, according to officials with inside knowledge of the discussions. Funding for the DIDG-Transnet-NRZ deal is understood to be at about 6,5 percent interest.
“The five percent royalty clause deliberately misrepresented as a purchase price by opponents of the deal is just a structure put in place to clear the NRZ’s historical debt, mainly salary arrears,” a source said.
Ministers opposed to the DIDG-Transnet-NRZ deal are reportedly doing the bidding for a rival group led by a non-resident indigenisation proponent and banker, who is understood to have tried to lobby Transnet to drop DIDG.
The ministers want government to rope in the China’s CREC and Sinohydro. Well placed sources said CREC wanted to be awarded the tender without submitting a bid.
They added that government exposed itself to the risk of damaging and expensive litigation if it moved to cancel the tender.
Chimhandamba said his consortium remained committed to the transaction, but declined to comment further.
Gumbo declined to comment when contacted for this story.
NRZ chairman Larry Mavima yesterday confirmed that the transaction was under review, but declined to give details of Cabinet’s decision.
“Cabinet issues are confidential, so for now it will be difficult for me to comment.
“But I can tell you that there were some questions regarding the structure of the Transnet/DIDG deal and certain financial capacity,” Mavima said.
“Cabinet has now asked the minister to go back and verify the capacity. I believe the shareholder is right to question the capacity of the winner. I, however, hope this is not a situation where a golden opportunity can be missed.
“We are hoping to submit clarifications soon so that government can reconsider its decision because this was the best opportunity for NRZ. This was going to revive the economy as it would benefit from cheaper transportation for goods.”
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary general, Japhet Moyo said government should not let the NRZ deal collapse, as it has brought renewed hope to the rail company’s estimated 5 000 employees, collapse.

Citing the $750 million to revive Zisco, which suffered a stillbirth a few years ago, after India’s Essar walked away Moyo said: “This would not surprise us if the deal does not materialise because the culture has not changed. It’s a disaster for the economy and for the workers who are owed millions of dollars because they were starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.”
The DIDG-Transnet consortium emerged winners after one of the most transparent bidding processes conducted by the State in recent times.
There were five other bidders vying for the NRZ revival, namely China Civil Engineering, Sino Hydro, accountancy firm Crowe Horwath & Welsha, SHM Railway of Malaysia and Croyeaux Limited of Zimbabwe.
The adjudication process was overseen by an adjudication team comprising members from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, the Office of the President and Cabinet, State Enterprises Restructuring Agency and NRZ.
The NRZ board also engaged Deloitte as a transaction advisor.

Source: Ministers derail NRZ revival (21/09/17)

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge Wins Best Resort Hotel for 21 Years Running

Africa Albida Tourism's flagship property Victoria Falls Safari Lodge has been voted the Best Resort Hotel for the 21st year in a row by the Association of Zimbabwe Travel Agents (AZTA), and the hospitality group also won three other awards.
The annual awards, which reward airlines, lodges, agents and companies with a certificate for their great service, as voted by the Zimbabwe travel industry, were presented by AZTA Chairlady Betty Katiyo at Reps Theatre in Harare on Saturday night.
Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Africa Albida Tourism's (AAT) flagship property, took out the top award ahead of Victoria Falls Hotel, which was first runner-up, and second runner-up Elephant Hills Resort.
The Africa Albida Tourism team with Zimbabwe Council for Tourism CEO Paul Matamisa and AZTA Chairlady Betty Katiyo (2nd and 3rd from right) after receiving the Best Resort Hotel award for Victoria Falls Safari Lodge at the Reps Theatre.
AAT property Victoria Falls Safari Club was named Best Boutique Hotel, with Stanley & Livingstone and Pamushana Lodge in south eastern Zimbabwe taking second and third places respectively.
AAT's Lokuthula Lodges won the award in the Best Self-Catering category, followed by Nyanga's Blue Swallow Lodges and Gweru's Antelope Park, while AAT marketing executive Wendy Bourne won the Most Outstanding Voluntary Service to Travel Agents award.
AAT chief executive Ross Kennedy said: "We are sincerely and deeply proud of Victoria Falls Safari Lodge for winning the Best Resort Hotel award for 21 years straight, as well as Lokuthula Lodges and Victoria Falls Safari Club winning in their categories again, and peer recognition for Ms Bourne."
Source: Victoria Falls Safari Lodge Wins Best Resort Hotel for 21 Years Running (22/09/17)

Vic Falls tourist arrivals up 22%

Tourist arrivals in Victoria Falls were up 21,6% in the first half of the year to 119 758 spurred by the growth in international arrivals, a new report has shown.
In the same period last year, arrivals to the resort town stood at 98 504.
According to the report, A Tourism Survey of the Victoria Falls Region, the growth in international arrivals offset a drop in domestic arrivals that was experienced in the first half of the year.
“International tourist arrivals to Victoria Falls rose 17% in 2016 and have gained an additional 32% on that in the first six months of 2017,” it said.
Arrivals from locals dropped to 21 744 in the first half of the year, down from 27 015 registered in the comparable period last year.
The report said regional tourist arrivals to the resort town dipped in 2016 ,“but are recovering well in 2017 with easier and increased air access”.
It said the area was failing to tap into the large number of tourist flows from the UK into South Africa.
“This will change greatly once direct access is available to the area from the UK. Similarly, large markets in Europe await direct access particularly from Germany, France and the Netherlands,” the report read.
The report covered Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe), Livingstone (Zambia), Chobe/Kasane (Botswana) and Hwange (Zimbabwe).
It was sponsored and conducted as an industry service by Africa Albida.

Monday 18 September 2017

Boom for Vic Falls tourism, room occupancy up

Zimbabwe’s premier tourist resort, Victoria Falls, has this year, witnessed a tourism boom equivalent to a record last experienced in 1999, Africa Albida Tourism, chief executive, Ross Kennedy has said.
In a statement last week, Kennedy, who heads a leading hospitality group, said room occupancies in Victoria Falls for the six months ended June 30, 2017 had seen an increase of 25,4% over the same period in 2016.
This, he said, equates to close to 19 000 additional rooms sold over that period by 10 hotels, which together have 1 125 rooms and measure arrivals monthly.
Kennedy said the feedback in Victoria Falls shows that this same trend is also evident across the rest of the sector, which represents a further 700 rooms.
“The trend of growth in tourism arrivals into Victoria Falls is ongoing, with the forward booking profile getting longer,” he said.
“People are booking much further in advance than they were two years ago.
“We have bookings well into 2019, including big international incentive travel groups, a market that has been largely absent since 1999.”
Kennedy said a number of the hotels in Victoria Falls would record occupancies of 90% and higher between August and November.
“This has not been seen since the peak tourist arrival years of 1994 to 1999,” he said.
“The positive downstream impact on national and regional tourism, plus the economy is significant.
“The increased tourism levy revenue stream will enable the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority to further enhance their marketing and branding of our world class destinations.”
Kennedy further said the positive impact of the rising numbers on the local economy and the tourism sector was substantial.
BA Comair international sales and interline manager, Margaret Kinsman said the airline was operating larger aircraft on the Johannesburg to Victoria Falls route and over the coming months it would be offering more daily flights on several days of the week.
“Between July and November 2017, three additional flights per week have been scheduled on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, using a B737-400, which accommodates 150 passengers,” she said.
“The airline is also licensed to operate these three additional services per week year-round as required, should there be demand.”
South African Airways operates an Airbus A330-200 with 222 seats, which is 88 seats more than their previous aircraft capacity.
In addition, Victoria Falls has new airlines servicing the destination, namely Ethiopian Airways and Kenya Airways, linking Victoria Falls to East Africa.

Sunday 3 September 2017

Why don't many British tourists visit Victoria Falls?

In August 1934, a memorial statue to one of Britain's greatest national heroes, David Livingstone, was unveiled alongside his beloved Victoria Falls.
A thousand people attended the grand ceremony, including British government dignitaries and hundreds of Africans, some of whom had travelled for days to honour him.
Fully 60 years after the explorer's death, Livingstone's almost mythical status was undiminished.
A Christian missionary who risked his life many times to expose - and ultimately end - the evils of the East African slave trade, he introduced the world to one of its natural wonders, and was the first person ever to walk across Africa from coast to coast, exploring and mapping the geography of the "dark continent".
Images of the life-sized bronze on the banks of the Zambezi were broadcast across the British Empire, countless school children thrilling to the stories of Livingstone's adventures and achievements.
Today, visitors still file past the statue on their way to experience the humbling majesty of the Zambezi as it plunges over the towering First Gorge.
But the British are notable by their absence.

Profound irony

Official figures from the Zimbabwe Tourism Ministry show that, since the turn of the millennium, the statue has rarely heard an accent from the United Kingdom, never mind voices from Livingstone's native Scotland.
In 2015, there were more Italian visitors than Britons, about twice as many Australians and French, three times as many Germans and seven times the number of Americans.
The irony is profound.
It was Livingstone's dream to turn Victoria Falls into a tourist attraction, his journals imagining paddle-steamers bringing visitors from the mouth of the Zambezi to witness their splendour.
There is a similar Britain-shaped hole at the quintessentially English Victoria Falls Hotel, where the flying boat from Southampton once stopped on its way to the Cape.
Pink gins are sipped on the lawns overlooking the Darlington-built steel bridge that has spanned the Zambezi gorge since 1905.
Pictures of British kings and queens adorn the walls, alongside animal heads and zebra skins.
The current Queen stayed at the hotel in 1947.

Uncomfortable relationship

A framed photograph shows the then-Princess Elizabeth with her father, George VI, watching the mighty Zambezi tumble over the precipice, an image that inspired huge numbers of British tourists to follow the Royals to the falls.
But in recent years, that flood has become a trickle.
Why? Robert Mugabe. Livingstone's statue stands on what is now Zimbabwean soil, and Britain has an uncomfortable relationship with its former colony.
Most UK tourists visit what locals call Mosi-oa-Tunya (The Smoke That Thunders) from the Zambian side, north of the river, where consciences may feel less troubled.
Limited sanctions remain in place against Zimbabwe, although these are mostly to do with arms dealing and individuals, including Robert and Grace Mugabe. Tourists can travel to the country.
And this corner of Zimbabwe is making a plan to woo the British back.
The border town of Victoria Falls exists only for tourism.

Emergency session

But after President Mugabe began forcibly confiscating land from white farmers in 2000, the country's status as an international pariah saw the number of foreign visitors there dwindle almost to nothing.
A decade later and facing ruin, business leaders in the town met in emergency session.
It was clear the Mugabe government was not in a position to help them.
The economy was in tatters, ravaged by hyperinflation, the national bank had to issue trillion-dollar notes.
Shops were empty and the people haunted by desperate poverty and fear.
The roads had not been maintained, anti-malaria measures had all but been abandoned, the international press painted a picture of a country where white Westerners were treated as the enemy.
What hope of attracting foreign tourists to that?
"If you have a pothole outside your house, there is no point in moaning about it if no-one is going to fix it," says Ross Kennedy, the hotelier behind the crisis meeting.
"We got together and agreed there are times when it is necessary to fix the pothole yourself."
So that's what they did, both metaphorically and literally.
"The town council said it could provide the labour and the trucks. We all chipped in to buy gravel and tar. It was a real town effort - hotel operators, transport operators, activity operators all helped fix the roads," Mr Kennedy says.

Innovative solutions

It was the same strategy with the fight against malaria. The council didn't have the foreign currency to buy the necessary chemicals to spray, so local businesses funded what was required, offsetting the cost against their rates.
They also tackled the security issue. As the owner of a number of local resorts, Mr Kennedy knew his business could never thrive if guests felt unsafe.
"Myself and three other guys in Vic Falls funded around 10 or 12 people to act as tourist police," he says.
Initially sceptical, the government's tourism authority soon decided the friendly uniformed teams were a great way to reassure potential visitors.
"There are many more tourist police now," Mr Kennedy says.
"We pay half, and the tourism authority pays half.
"The local police have become more supportive, and now train the recruits in basic police work and public relations."
The latest plan is for private business to buy new software that would speed up the issuing of visas at the border, reducing the process from three minutes to 30 seconds, ending the long queues that are many tourists' dreary introduction to Zimbabwe.
As a result of these innovative joint ventures, Victoria Falls has managed to insulate itself from many of Zimbabwe's problems.
"We are in a bubble here," says Africa Albida Tourism's Michele Vickery.
"When the state could not be relied upon, the people of this community just looked out for each other. The result is that tourism is picking up again."
The Americans are coming back, both young backpackers and wealthy baby-boomers. Australians, Germans, French and Italians are beginning to arrive again too. The town is much busier. But where are the British?
"Britain is still a bit behind," Mr Kennedy says.
"I think the main reason is the colonial past. There is an element who say, 'There is no way I am spending a dollar in a country that behaves like that, where X, Y or Z is in power,' to which I say, 'I am not your moral compass.'"

Scramble for Africa

The British Embassy has been lobbied by town businesses to push for the inclusion of a paragraph in the UK's official Zimbabwe travel advice, saying that warnings of violence, assaults by security forces, shortages of fuel and water do not apply to Victoria Falls.
But the advice has not changed.
The UK's relationship with Zimbabwe was formalised following the Congress of Berlin in 1885, part of the so-called scramble for Africa.
Western powers sat around a table carving up the continent and claiming territorial rights.
Britain walked away with the keys to exploiting the area it would later call Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.
The man granted the honour of unveiling David Livingstone's statue on the banks of the Zambezi in 1934 was the explorer's nephew, Howard Moffatt.
A very different personality to his liberal and reforming uncle, Moffatt had just stepped down as prime minister of Southern Rhodesia, having pushed through the Land Apportionment Act of 1930.

Moral ambiguity

The legislation barred African landownership in the British Crown colony, outside special reserves.
The best land was allocated exclusively to white people, farms where the seeds of black grievance and bitterness were sown.
Mr Mugabe's violent seizure of white-owned property 70 years later might be seen by some as the bloody consequence of that colonial arrogance.
The moral ambiguity that lies behind Britain's relationship with Zimbabwe surely helps explain the persistent reluctance of many in this country to risk association with it.
Since 2015, Victoria Falls has had its own international airport with a runway capable of taking the largest passenger aircraft.
The townsfolk have pressed airlines to begin direct flights from Europe, but British carriers have so far not expressed much interest.

Political instability

UK airlines say there are commercial and logistical reasons for not flying directly to the resort at the moment.
It is easy to find reasons not to step upon the troubled lands of Zimbabwe.
At the moment, the country faces an acute cash shortage. cash machines are usually empty, and American dollars - now the legal currency - are so scarce, hawkers beg tourists for their shoes and clothes.
There are concerns that dreaded inflation is returning.
People worry about social and political instability, with elections next year and, at some point, transition to a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe.
But the fundamentals of this beautiful and enchanting country are pretty solid.
The landscape and wildlife are stunning. The climate is benign and the soil fertile. Communities have become resilient and practical.
There are a few straws in the savannah wind. Some British tour operators have recently returned to Zimbabwe, and hoteliers report UK bookings are creeping up, although there is still a long way to go.
Zimbabwe's Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi points out that visitors to Niagara Falls in North America bring in income double that of the whole of Zimbabwe's economy.
"They are spending $30bn [£23bn] whilst Victoria Falls, a natural wonder of a higher magnitude, receives just $1bn," he told the Zimbabwe parliament.
Victoria Falls can shield itself from some of Zimbabwe's contemporary woes.
But the grim countenance of Livingstone's statue, staring resolutely at the great falls, reminds us of the struggle to navigate a path through the thorny undergrowth of African history.