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Friday 28 December 2018

Fire razes Victoria Falls’ Lookout cafe

Lookout Café in Victoria Falls was on Christmas Eve reduced to ashes by a fire suspected to have been caused by an electric fault.

Firefighters from the Victoria Falls Municipality were called but could not salvage the wooden and grass thatched structure.
The café which is operated by Wild Horizons, one of the leading tour operating companies in the country, employs 30 people.
Wild Horizons chief executive Mr Gary Archer confirmed the incident.

“At 4:20AM on the 24th of December 2018, Lookout Café Victoria Falls was destroyed by fire. The café will be closed for the foreseeable future,” said Mr Archer.
He said no one was injured.
Mr Archer said tourism activities such as highwire activities were not affected and will continue to operate as usual.
These activities include gorge swing and gorge view, zip line and flying fox.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank the Victoria Falls fire brigade for their speedy and professional assistance in containing and putting out the fire. Investigations are ongoing while some insurance assessors are also coming to investigate.
“We’ll go through all processes and will communicate after the findings are out but for now we are concerned about this unfortunate incident and what to do with the 30 workers who are affected. We will however start repairs soon,” said Mr Archer.
Tourists preferred Lookout Café to other eateries because it is strategically positioned facing the gorge.
Victoria Falls Municipality public relations and economic development officer Mr Ngqabutho Moyo said: “Our fire fighters attended the scene and investigations are ongoing.
“However, people need to be educated about fires and their occurrence. Some people want to put out fire themselves or drive from the premises to look for help. Residents should use emergency numbers to call the fire brigade or police.” 

Saturday 22 December 2018

Zimbabwe 2018 tourism arrivals hit record high, hopeful operators expand facilities

Tourist arrivals in Zimbabwe will end the year at a record 2.7 million, after a boom in the traditionally slow first half and increased traffic via the new Victoria Falls Airport gave leading operators their “best year ever”.
Arrivals in the first quarter, which is usually a low business period for the industry, was up by 50%, according to Government data, corroborated by leading private players such as Africa Albida, which says occupancy at its facilities is at its highest ever level.
“We expect to end the year with 2.7 million visitors to Zimbabwe as hotel occupancy levels in major resorts such as Victoria Falls are now over 80%. We are working to attract more investors to build more hotels in order to sustain increased business levels and meet demand for hotel rooms,” says Tourism Minister Prisca Mupfumira.
This would be higher than the 2.25 million visitors reached in 1999, Mupfumira said. Tourism was one of Zimbabwe’s major industries, but it collapsed after violent land takeovers and elections kept visitors from traditional source markets in Europe and North America away.
Africa Albida says occupancy at its flagship operation, the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, was 81.5% in the year to September, up from 71.7% over the same period last year, according to company PR Marianne Betts. The facility had experienced its busiest August ever, with occupancy of 88%. Occupancy across ten hotels in the town rose from 53.6% to 58.7% year-on-year,
Company CEO Ross Kennedy attributed the growth to the expansion of Victoria Falls International Airport. “The new Victoria Falls Airport, with its geographical hub location, plus much enhanced route access and connectivity, has played a part in the growth of the destination”.
Surprise boom time
This year, all major tourism operators reported a strong first half year.
Africa Sun, in its results for the first half, reported “remarkable increase in volumes across the hotels”, as its city hotels benefitted from elections while its Victoria Falls operations “benefited from increased foreign arrivals”.
Occupancy level increased 10 percentage points to 55 percent in the first half. International arrivals rose by an average of 15%. The company is betting on infrastructure projects, such as the upgrade of the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport and the Beitbridge highway for further recovery.
Patrick Matute, MD of Dawn Properties, owner of the facilities operated by African Sun, said of the half year: “Trading conditions improved significantly for our tenant AfricanSun, with a better than expected performance in what is traditionally their low peak period”.
Hotel operator Brainworks saw its occupancy rates rising 20% in the first half of this year, attributed by CEO Brett Childs to the change of president last year and the new airport at Vic Falls.
According to Wilderness Safaris, forward bookings from North America, Europe and the UK grew this year, as did demand for longer itineraries in the safari areas.
While Zimbabwe’s tourism sector was in crisis, facilities fell behind other markets on quality. Companies are now looking to invest in building new tour facilities or renovating existing ones.
At Meikles, executive chairman John Moxon said recently that the company is expanding the Victoria Falls Hotel to meet increased demand for rooms.
Rainbow Tourism Group also has set aside $1 million to redo 88 rooms at Victoria Falls. So far, 46 rooms have been renovated.
Brainworks Brett sold its financial services business to focus on tourism, according to CEO Childs. There has not been any new large hotel built in Zimbabwe for years, and the company is now buying land to build new hotels to prepare for higher demand.
Africa Sun head Edwin Shangwa, at an AGM mid-year, told shareholders that the company was refurbishing Holiday Inn Mutare, Kariba’s Caribbea Bay, Hwange Safari Lodge and the Victoria Falls Hotel.
Off the beaten track
However, more and more tourists are looking away from traditional accommodation and looking for adventures elsewhere.
Sharon Stead, of Amalinda Safari, told the Telegraph of UK recently: “There’s now more interest in destinations off the beaten track.”
Operators are investing in building facilities that meet the demands of such visitors, with new bush lodges and tented camps planned.
Great Plains Conservation, which operates retreats in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, recently acquired some land in Sapi, near Mana Pools, where it is building camps, according to its head Jonathan Hudson. Great Plains also plans to build a luxury camp in the Zambezi National Park.
Wilderness Safaris this year reopened Little Makalolo, a bush camp in the Hwange National Park, which had been closed for years. Zambezi Cruise Safaris plans to open Kulizwe Marina Lodge in Binga Town and the Crowned Eagle Boutique Hotel overlooking Kariba.
Companies are also targeting low-budget and domestic tourists, with Shearwater investing $35 million into low-cost lodges across the country. The company has already completed the Explorers’ Village, a cluster of low-cost lodges at Vic Falls, at a cost of $4 million.
For the first time in years, this year Zimbabwe got some good PR from the global travel press, with positive reviews from media such Telegraph Travel, Huffington Post and The Vanity Fair and recommendations by travel platforms such as Lonely Planet, National Geographic, Japan’s Seichi Travel and Frommers.
But while the half year was good, the last quarter has seen the return of fuel queues, rising inflation and worsening foreign currency shortages, factors that may slow the recovery in 2019. Many operators are still uncertain as to how to treat foreign currency payments, according to Tourism Business Council president Paul Matamisa. “It doesn’t look like there is common way of how do we do things and that creates a lot of problems for operators,” Matamisa was quoted as saying recently.
Poor air access inside the country remains also a key concern. Air Zimbabwe was this year placed under administration, although Transport Minister Joel Matiza confirms that the company is looking to buy three Embraer E145 by the first quarter of 2019 for the airline to work regional and domestic routes.
Zimbabwe is also far more expensive than its regional competitors, such as Zambia, Botswana, Kenya and Mozambique.

Friday 21 December 2018

Historic King Lewanika monument on verge of collapsing into Zambezi River

(By Edwin Mbulo in Livingstone)
A NATIONAL Monument for the historic visit to the Zambezi Boat Club by King Lubosi Lewanika of the Lozi speaking people with his son Litia to welcome the Duke and Duchess of Connaught is in a depraved state and on the verge of falling into the river.

A visit to the Zambezi Boat Club in Livingstone by The Mast revealed the monument needs urgent repair.
Government has been under attack over the K370,000 the Bank of Zambia spent to rehabilitate the Kabwe Fig tree, which is on the K50 note.
UNZA’s development studies lecturer Dr Charity Musamba asked the government to publicise the expenditure outline for the tree in Kabwe.
Dr Musamba said the country was informed that the expenditure for renovating the fig tree so that it meets the heritage standards of conservation was over K300,000.
Locally known as Mukuyu, the tree is located at Kabwe’s Freedom Way Square and attracts a number of visitors who take shelter under its massive canopy.
The Bank of Zambia in partnership with the National Heritage Conservation Commission (NHCC) funded the rehabilitation of the national monument in Kabwe.
However, the cost of rehabilitation has sparked consternation among members of the public, especially on social media, who argue that there was no economic justification to ‘fund’ a tree when many homes, even in Kabwe itself, were inundated by hunger.
Contrary to the Kabwe monument, the monument in Livingstone inscribed with GR I in Livingstone is on the verge of collapsing and plunging into the Zambezi River.
The Boat Club building is one of the many National Monuments in Livingstone and draws much of its history from the British Royal visit and also the famous Rowing Regatta, a water sport that was introduced in 1905 at the site.
In 1910, the Duke and Duchess of Connaught visited South Africa to open the first session of the Union Parliament and then proceeded on a tour of Southern and Northern Rhodesia.
“The Litunga Lubosi Lewanika and other Barotse royalty travelled to Livingstone for the occasion and were accommodated in town. Lewanika arranged an exhibition and demonstration of traditional Lozi crafts in the Barotse Centre (now Mukuni Park), of which he took the visitors on a conducted tour,” NHCC historical documents reveal.
Several Zambezi Boat Club members under the leadership of a prominent lawyer, John Kapepe, have revealed that letters have been written to NHCC with regards the poor state of the national monument.
However, NHCC South West senior conservation officer Richard Mbewe said an assessment of the costs for the repair of the monument, which he did not disclose, have been done and sent to Lusaka.
“We hope the funds will be released before January so that we can rehabilitate the monument. It is true that it may fall into the Zambezi River but we hope to carry out the repairs before it does so. We will push for the funds and our conservation team is going to Lusaka this week, so we will push,” said Mbewe.

Thursday 6 December 2018

Hotel occupancy up to 60%

Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) president Innocent Manyera, told NewsDay that industry had performed fairly well with some hotels already declaring profits before year-end.
“Excitement came from the Zimbabwe open for business mantra during the first half of the year that saw people travelling to Zimbabwe for workshops. The elections period also saw an increase in occupancies during preparation months and post-election period. There was also a boom in travellers to Victoria Falls,” Manyera said.
“There was a positive trajectory to that extent and more tourists plying Victoria Falls, in particular using air and road as a mode of transport. The forecast is to close above 60% in occupancy, though December will be kind of low due to less workshops undertaken, which is a major driver of occupancies in our country”.
However, the cholera outbreak in the first half of the year affected some lined up workshops for city hotels and travel by regional as well as international travellers, he said.
Manyera added that the sector was still in need of capitalisation to retool, as most of their assets were tired.
“We also need serious considerations on the pricing from our suppliers where we face three to four pricing system, US, bond, cash, swipe among others,” he said.
“Environmental issues need to be looked into. There are no tight laws on issues to manage garbage, culture change on littering as well as traffic laws to avoid hitch hiking on roads and places close to hospitality entities.”
Along with mining and agriculture, the tourism industry is expected to play a key role in generating the much-needed foreign currency and generating employment.
Under the recently developed National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy — Vision 2025, government seeks to regain lost market share in the traditional markets of Europe, America, Australia and Japan, penetrate new markets in Eastern Europe, China and India in Asia as well as growing the domestic market so as to enhance the contribution of tourism to the national economy.
The target is to increase tourist arrivals from the anticipated 2,7 million in 2018 to over 5,5 million by 2023, as well as growing tourism receipts from $1 billion in 2017 to $3,5 billion by 2023.
Marketing efforts also target to increase the average length of stay from five days four nights in 2015 to nine days eight nights by 2023, increase the share of overseas market from 20% in 2017 to 40% by 2023 and subsequently increase the contribution of tourism to employment creation from the current 200 000 (direct, indirect and induced employment) in 2016 to about 500 000 by 2023.

Tuesday 4 December 2018

Airlines increase capacity. . .Tourists flood Vic Falls

Leonard Ncube in Victoria Falls
SOUTH Africa Airways (SAA) has replaced its wide bodied aircraft A330-222 with a much bigger 330-300 on its Johannesburg-Victoria Falls route due to demand.
The move comes soon after Ethiopian Airlines also increased frequency from three to four days per week on its route between Addis Ababa-Victoria Falls-Gaborone-Addis Ababa.
The year 2018 has been a remarkable year for the tourism industry, which experienced unprecedented growth in arrivals resulting in airlines increasing capacity.
Regarded as one of the leading airlines in Southern Africa, SAA launched its wide-bodied 222-seater airbus flight to Victoria Falls last year following the completion of the $150 million Victoria Falls International Airport upgrade.
It’s has now further increased its capacity by 27 seats from 222 to 249 as more tourists fly into Victoria Falls.
The new look airport facility can now accommodate wide bodied aircraft and has capacity to handle more than 1.5 million passengers annually.
Airport manager, Mr Ronnie Masawi, said this was a sign of positive growth on the destination.
“SAA started using airbus 330-300 on November 29 as it increased capacity by additional seats. This might look like a small figure but it means increased capacity and translates to huge numbers cumulatively,” said Mr Masawi.
“The year 2018 has seen a very significant increase in numbers where new entrance airlines have also consolidated their services.”
Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe (TBCZ) representative, Mrs Barbara Murasiranwa, said air travel was becoming more popular with travellers due to challenges associated with road transport.
“This means an increase in business while people are growing more confident in air travel to Vic Falls especially as self-drivers face challenges of badly serviced roads and fuel shortages,” said Mrs Murasiranwa.
“The plane is amazingly beautiful and it’s economy class looks like business class if compared to other airlines thereby bringing luxury flights to Victoria Falls.”
SAA, which also flies to Harare and Bulawayo, will be alternating the airbus with a much bigger aircraft where there is high demand.
SAA is a Star Alliance member and operates in over 40 destinations across the globe, with over 14 000 weekly connections through its global partners’ network with OR Tambo International Airport as the main hub.
It carries over six million passengers annually across the network as it competes with world class airlines.
Other airlines flying into Victoria Falls include Air Zimbabwe, Air Namibia, British Airways, Fastjet, Kenyan Airways and SA Airlink.
The Victoria Falls International Airport has been regarded as a game changer in the country’s tourism and aviation as its expanded 4km and 60 metres wide runway can accommodate wide bodied aircraft such as B747, B777, Airbus A340 and A380 among others.

Monday 3 December 2018

Victoria Falls mall 65% complete

ZIMRE Property Investment (Zimre) has so far spent $9,2 million on its shopping mall in Victoria Falls which is now 65% complete.

Providing above 5 000 square metres of lettable space, the $13 million Sawanga Shopping Mall consists of 23 shops, banks, concept houses, food courts, restaurants, coffee shops, a service station and curio shops.

Zimre property manager, Stephen Kapfunde, told NewsDay in e-mailed responses that the mall would be operational by end of this month.

"The shopping mall is approximately at 65% completion and we expect the contractor to finish off most of the brickwork and to have the balance of the roof sheets on the mall in two weeks' time from now," Kapfunde said.

"About $9.2million has been spent on the project to date and it is scheduled for practical completion by end of December 2018," he said.

The mall is one of Zimre's major projects while the company has also been converting its Nicoz House Bulawayo from offices to student accommodation.

Kapfunde said the company has several projects lined up, including an office park development in Borrowdale; a townhouse development in Westgate, Harare; Selbourne Park in Bulawayo; an industrial park in Bluff Hill, Harare, and a residential development in Victoria Falls.

"The land for all these developments has already been acquired and the projects are at different stages of implementation. Some are at design stage, some are awaiting approval."

Source: Victoria Falls mall 65% complete (2/12/18)

Sunday 2 December 2018

American tourist injured in hippo attack

AN American tourist is lucky to be alive after she was attacked by a hippo as she canoed with her husband on the Zambezi River in Victoria Falls Saturday morning.
Christine Yaldor, 37, was rushed to a private hospital in the resort town where she was treated for leg injuries, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management authorities said.
“The couple was attacked by a hippo when they peddled closer to it. The woman sustained injuries on the leg and was rushed to hospital after being rescued by tour guides,” said a source who witnessed the attack.
Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesperson Tinashe Farawo confirmed the incident.
“I can confirm that an American woman was attacked by a hippo while canoeing. She sustained some injuries on her leg but she has been since treated and the wound dressed,” he said.
“Our message remains the same, we urge tourists to be vigilant and extra careful. Never underestimate these animals. Simply stay away from them. Let us be careful and avoid unnecessary deaths and injuries.”

New cruise boat for Vic Falls

By Leonard Ncube
Shearwater Adventures has acquired a 100-seater up-market cruise boat to cater for executive tourist clientele. The two-deck boat was manufactured by a Bulawayo company at a cost of about $500 000 and is already in Victoria Falls ready for use on the Zambezi River.

Shearwater spokesperson Mr Clement Mukwasi said the development was a response to demand by the market in the wake of renewed interest in destination Zimbabwe.
“This is a 100-seater boat but we’ll use it as a 60-seater because the facility we are providing is not an ordinary cruise. We’re doing an up-market luxury cruise whose price and target market is different from the ordinary market,” he said.

Thursday 22 November 2018

Victoria Falls Hotel average revenue per room grows

THE Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed conglomerate, Meikles Limited’s profit after tax for the half-year ended September 30, 2018 grew by 467 percent to $15,3 million from $2,7 million realised last year.
The group’s revenue for the period under review grew by 30 percent to $330,8 million from $254 million in the comparable period.
In its unaudited financial statement for the period under review, the group also said profit after tax had surpassed the result of the full financial year ended March 31, 2018 of $7,7 million by 99 percent.
Group chairman, Mr John Moxon, said in a statement accompanying the financial results: “Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation for the period rose by 107 percent to $31,5 million from the previous year’s result of $15,2 million.
“Progress is being made in raising long-term finance. On completion, short-term loans and overdue current liabilities will be paid off.”
Meikles Limited owns TM Supermarkets trading as TM Pick n Pay, Tanganda, Meikles Hotel, Victoria Falls Hotel and Meikles Stores. During the period TM Pick n Pay supermarkets realised revenue amounting to $305,6 million reflecting a growth of 32 percent from $232 million in the previous year.
The rise in revenue was underpinned by a considerable growth in the number of units sold. The supermarket division’s profit after tax improved to $13,9 million from $6,7 million the previous year.
“Refurbishment works are in progress at five branches with completion expected before the commencement of the festive season,” Mr Moxon said.
On Tanganda, he said the division’s revenue went up by 22 percent to $15,7 million from $12,9 million achieved during the six months ended September 30, 2017. On the hospitality side, he said revenues grew by 18 percent to $10,3 million from $8,7 million achieved during the same period last year.
“At Meikles, revenues per average room rose by 35 percent underpinned by growth of both room occupancy and average room rate.
“The Victoria Falls Hotel revenue per average room grew to $198 from $188 achieved the previous,” he said.
Mr Moxon said Meikles Stores closed its mega market operations during the period under review due to working capital constraints as a result the division suffered a loss of $1,2 million compared to a loss of $1,8 million in the previous year.
“Funding arrangements for working capital requirements are being secured and new store models are being developed,” he said.

Wednesday 21 November 2018

Victoria Falls, Livingstone youths in clean-up campaign

Leonard Ncube/Rosalla Mzacana, Victoria Falls Reporters
A GROUP of volunteer youths from Victoria Falls and their counterparts from Livingstone in Zambia embarked on a clean-up of the Victoria Falls Rainforest and Bridge in an effort to keep the resort destination in its pristine state.
The two countries share the Victoria Falls and bridge, both tourist attractions, with the now popular imagery that Zimbabwe is the front and Zambia the back of the beautiful Mighty Victoria Falls.
However, human activity in and around the area has led to significant pollution, which has even seen the Rainforest being invaded by the water hyacinth plant while visitors also throw litter around.
Green Line Africa working with the Zimbabwe Youth Environment Network of Victoria Falls and Zambia Youth Network organised the clean-up with 21 youths taking part last week.
Zimbabwe Youth Environment Network chairperson Mr Taffy Phiri said the exercise was part of the Global Action Month activities to inculcate a culture of cleanliness among youths and communities.
“Our aim here is to make sure we educate young people about the importance of safeguarding their environment and encouraging them to be involved and take action.
“Don’t treat the earth as if it was left to you by your ancestors but treat it as if it was lent to you by your children,” said Mr Phiri.
“As much as the Rainforest is the responsibility of the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, it is also our mandate as the youths to ensure that we assist in preserving the heritage site.”
His counterpart from Zambia Youth Network assistant field officer Miss Vanessa Chibale said the coming together of the youths was a way for them to learn from each other.
“We are here to engage one another to exchange notes in terms of taking care of the environment,” she said.
The Global Action Month runs under the theme “Promoting Children’s Environmental Rights: Act Now” and is dedicated to the engagement of young people to be active in taking care and preserving their environment. Terre Des Hommes of Germany is funding the programme.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

New book on the history of the Victoria Falls

Life and Death at the Old Drift, Victoria Falls, 1898-1905, by Peter Roberts

The Old Drift holds a unique place within the story of the modern development of the region, established in 1898 and marking the main crossing point on the Zambezi River above the Victoria Falls for European travellers and traders heading north into the Kingdom of Barotseland (Western Zambia). Below the Falls the river, trapped within the deep gorges, presents a natural barrier to travellers for hundreds of kilometres.

A small settlement of evolved on the north bank and from 1898 to 1905 the crossing was a focal point in the transport of goods and people across the river, despite earning notoriety for the high mortality rate, with many settlers dying of malarial complications known as blackwater fever.

The arrival of the railway from the southern Cape to the banks of the Zambezi in mid-1904, and the construction of the Victoria Falls Bridge - crossing the river just below the great waterfall and opened in 1905 - shifted the axis of activity away from the Old Drift, and the ramshackle gathering of huts was abandoned to the bush in favour of the new town of Livingstone. After only a short number of years the days of the Drift were over, leaving only the graves of those who died and the memories of those lucky enough to have survived. Close by a stone cairn, erected by the Zambian National Monuments Commission in 1952, marks where the ferry pontoons arrived and the wagons once came ashore.

'Life and Death at the Old Drift' presents a detailed history of this brief but pivotal period in the recent human history of the Falls. Quoting extensively from contemporary references and sources, the story follows the growth of this small European community and some of the colourful characters drawn to life on the banks of the Zambezi - despite the risks.

Fully illustrated with over 90 archive images and photographs. [60,000 words, 189 pages]

First published in March 2018, copies of 'Life and Death at the Old Drift, Victoria Falls (1898-1905)' are available to order online through either (US site) or (UK site) for payment in US Dollars or UK Pounds.

Friday 16 November 2018

Africa’s Victoria Falls: the good, bad and ugly sides to tourism at the world’s largest water curtain

An adrenaline junkie’s dream destination, the wildly impressive waterfall is not without faults, gatecrashing crocodiles and badly behaved baboons among them

Tim Pile  (15 Nov, 2018)

The Good

One of the most spectacular sights in Africa, Victoria Falls is a mile-long marvel of mist and spray marking the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Known to locals as Mosi-oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders”, the roar from the world’s largest single curtain of falling water can be heard 40km away.

The falls were named after Britain’s Queen Victoria by David Livingstone, the first European known to have crossed the Dark Continent. On coming face to face with the waterfall in 1855, the explorer and missionary incredu­lously recorded, “It has never been seen before by European eyes, but scenes so wonderful must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”

Chief Sekeletu, of the local Makololo tribe, paddled the adventurous Scotsman to Goat Island, now Livingstone Island, which is as close to the dramatic cataract as you can get. Well, almost. Today’s tourists take the same route until they, too, are surrounded by the tossing, tumbling Zambezi River. Water levels are at their lowest from late August to early January and this is when fearless (or foolish) foreigners dive in and swim to Devil’s Pool. A submerged ledge enables show-offs to lie on the lip of the falls, barely a metre from the raging rapids, without being swept over.

The ultimate infinity pool is reached from the Zambian border town of – you guessed it – Livingstone. The easy-going former capital is a popular base for visitors wary of the political, economic and social unrest just across the river.

Zimbabwe may be about to bounce back from its tourism slump, however. Lonely Planet has included the nation once known as Rhodesia in its top 10 of countries to visit in 2019, Victoria Falls (also the name of the town) hotel occupancy rates are at their highest for 20 years and 300,000 people are expected this year – a far cry from 2008, when visitor numbers dwindled to 25,000.
Tourism chiefs on both sides of the river realise the destination they share has what it takes to become a lucrative year-round attraction (the waterfall draws even bigger crowds during the rainy season). Victoria Falls might be twice as high as Niagara, in North America, but it’s a lot less commercialised, although that’s changing.

Helicopter flights and hot-air-balloon rides offer birds-eye views, and adrenaline junkies go white-water rafting down the mighty Zambezi or zip-line over it. They can also follow in the footsteps of Hollywood actor Will Smith, who gave the local tourism industry a boost last year when he bungee jumped off the 111-metre bridge that links Zim and Zam.

On the subject of adrenaline sports, (Zimbabwean) ground was recently broken on a Grand Prix circuit for Victoria Falls, bankrolled by a Dubai-based consortium. Besides the racetrack, there are plans for convention facilities, a medical centre and shopping mall.
Further afield, both countries offer world-class game viewing. Safari goers have an excellent chance of spotting the Big Five in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, which is home to one of Africa’s largest elephant populations. In ZambiaSouth Luangwa National Park
 is renowned for its walking safaris. Frankly, I’d rather sit on the ledge at Devil’s Pool.

The Bad

It’s 12 months this week since Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe was ousted in a coup. After years of corruption, financial mismanagement and plummeting exports, tourism is the only bright spot in a beleaguered economy, which helps explain the ambitious Grand Prix project.

Local hoteliers suspect the plans are nothing more than a publicity stunt but if construction does go ahead, the environmental impact at the Unesco World Heritage Site is likely to be devastating.

Meanwhile, empty ATMs and queues for petrol and food mean panic buying and hoarding are part of everyday life for Zimbabweans and, despite the introduction of a multiple-currency system, American dollars are scarce. In fact, the strength of the greenback (if you can get hold of any) has made Zimbabwe the most expensive country in the region – another reason tourists are basing themselves on the Zambian side of the falls. Inflation and a ballooning national debt have also resulted in a chronic shortage of medicines. Try not to fall ill in Zimbabwe.

Failed state it might be, but Zim is famous for its incre­dibly friendly people. Times are tough, though, and street vendors have had to become persistent to survive. Even those employed in an official capacity, such as tour guides and shopkeepers, occasionally indulge in price gouging scams. You may not realise you’re being fleeced, or, in some cases, robbed. In a four-month period last year, 100 Victoria Falls hotel guests had money and other items stolen from their rooms.

Safety and security risks aren’t restricted to light-fingered humans, however. This is Africa and wild animals present an altogether different kind of threat. In August, a crocodile was captured on Victoria Falls Bridge, not far from where Will Smith bungee jumped. Then, in September, a German tourist in Victoria Falls, the town, was attacked and trampled on by an irate elephant. He survived after hawkers threw stones at the beast to distract it.

Another tragic Victoria Falls pachy­derm tale that appeared in African newspapers last year had an air of fake news about it. The headline: “Motorist dies when elephant falls on his car” sounds surreal enough, but read on and you discover the 44-year-old victim was called John Banana.

Hippos are responsible for more human fatalities than any other large animal in Africa and boating out to Livingstone Island is arguably riskier than sitting in the Devil’s Pool. Capsizing incidents are not unheard of in these parts. In 1910, a Mr Orchard and a Mrs Moss were swept into the misty abyss after an inquisitive hippo upended their canoes at the top of the falls. Their bodies were later found to have been mutilated by crocodiles.

The Ugly

With long, razor-sharp canines, baboons are perhaps the most menacing animals that tourists are likely to encounter. From pulling power cables loose, which left 50,000 residents in Livingstone without electricity last year, to ambushing shoppers as they carry groceries home, the opportunistic primates are at best a nuisance, at worse unpredictable and aggressive. In April, a baboon mauled a one-year-old baby in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, causing life-threatening injuries.

To add insult to injury, mother and daughter had to cross into Zambia for emergency treatment due to a lack of medication on their side of the border.

Getting there 

Ethiopian flies from Hong Kong to Victoria Falls airport, in Zimbabwe, via Addis Ababa. South African connects Hong Kong to Livingstone airport, in Zambia, via Johannesburg.

Saturday 10 November 2018

Vic Falls gets new US$800-a-night hotel

The list of luxury boutique hotels in Victoria Falls continues to grow with another addition scheduled to open its doors in the prime resort in May next year.

Mbano Manor Hotel will bring a unique experience to global, high-end tourists visiting the resort’s pristine surrounds, which include the major drawcard, the world-famous Victoria Falls waterfall, and Zambezi National Park.

The 19 all-suite luxury boutique hotel will be situated between the Zambezi National Park and the majestic Victoria Falls, in the middle of an ancient, natural teak forest. The foreseen rate will be from US$800 per person per night sharing, for full board, including accommodation, meals, beverage and transfers.

Zimbabwe-born businesswoman Mati Nyazema, the driving force behind the hotel, is ecstatic and says her project is “the ideal product for a renewed travel experience” in the country, especially for discerning clients visiting Southern and East Africa.

However, the new arrival would have to fight it out for the evidently resurgent market share in an environment where others have already marked their territory in black and white. There are other luxury hotels in the Victoria Falls who have made their names on the global stage of travel such as on ratings agencies like TripAdvisor and fivestaralliance, among others.

The market is defined by names such as the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Stanley & Livingstone Hotel, Matetsi Victoria Falls, the Elephant Camp or even the intimate “grand old lady of the falls”, the Victoria Falls Hotel, itself.

Riding on the crest of renewed interest in the Zimbabwean market — albeit short-lived — following a coup in November last year and the subsequent economic developments, the country was seen as the new investment frontier. Toppling of long-time ruler Robert Mugabe ushered a new glimmer of hope, while the new government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa embraced a reform agenda under the mantra “Zimbabwe is open for business”.

The first half of 2018 reported 21% growth in the local tourism sector in Zimbabwe. A number of hotels in Victoria Falls reported record occupancies up to August 2018, attributed largely to the newly-built Victoria Falls International Airport and more frequent flights being added by local and international airlines.

Victoria Falls alone has recorded a 50% increase in tourist arrivals this year, with some hotels fully booked for the rest of the year, according to Tourism minister, Prisca Mupfumira.

Mupfumira said hotels in Victoria Falls last experienced 100% bookings in 1999.

Nonetheless, Nyazema believes the renewed interest and optimism in Zimbabwe after the change of leadership in the country offers a great opportunity for investors seeking to leverage on the uncultivated luxury tourism market within Victoria Falls. Tourism operators, mainly in the Victoria Falls, have recorded occupancy levels of nearly 90% since the beginning of the year with some recording advance bookings for 2019.

Each standard suite at Mbano features high rafters, open ceilings and large windows allowing natural light to flow in and providing a cool interior. The suites comprise a relaxing lounge area, a spacious bedroom, modern best-in-class bathroom, as well as a dressing room. A generous veranda offers guests the opportunity to relax outdoors while enjoying the beauty of the lush site and sounds of nature. The suites are equipped with modern essentials, such as air conditioning, television and wi-fi connectivity

The hotel also has a presidential villa which boasts of its own gardens, plunge pool and individual access. Besides a king-size bedroom, it is also complemented by fine finishings and luxury couple amenities, generous veranda and a discreet plunge pool allowing guests to cool down in privacy.

Nyazema, who grew up in Zimbabwe and worked in South Africa as a director at the Tsogo Sun Group and managed one of Africa’s leading congress venues, the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, says the global luxury hotels market continues to expand, characterised by high-end experiences.

“People are choosing to spend their money on experiences that create memories. At Mbano, we have designed our product and guest experiences to embrace the latest trends, such as responsible tourism, perceptive dining, and a simple focus on rest and a pronounced sleep experience,” Nyazema says.

South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania have attracted high-end clients to their top hotels and exclusive game lodges. Zimbabwe in particular is poised to take its natural share of this high-end market and attract foreign investment in Zimbabwe. Attracting foreign investment to the area can provide much-needed financial support to stimulate the local travel and tourism sector, and drive job-creation.”

Nyazema says construction and “a big part of the design brief was to come up with an environmentally-friendly luxury hotel that respects its natural surroundings”.

She brings 30 years of tourism and hospitality experience, including involvement in global travel companies and hotel start-ups in several African countries.

She will lead the management team of the hotel.

Friday 2 November 2018

Tourist capital gets $165 million resort facility

MOSI-OA-TUNYA Resort Holdings Limited plans to construct a five-star hotel, a golf course and a 600-seater convention centre in Livingstone at a cost of US$ 165 million next year in June.
An environmental impact assessment public consultation meeting was held last week.
The company will sign a 50-year lease agreement with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife to construct the hotel in the Mosi-oa-tunya national park.

Ministry of Tourism and Arts Permanent Secretary Howard Sikwela said in an interview that the proposed project that will help increase bed space in Livingstone will also have a kids’ park.

Source: Tourist capital gets $165 million resort facility (01/11/18)

Tuesday 2 October 2018

Passenger volume at Vic Falls International Airport surges

Passengers volume at the upgraded Victoria Falls International Airport surged by 25 percent during period January to August according to latest figures from the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) with calls for the tourism industry to position themselves to benefit from the continued influx of tourists.
Dubbed ‘The Game Changer’ the upgraded Victoria Falls International Airport which is a gateway to the majestic and legendary Victoria Falls continues to witness an influx of tourists.
Statistics from the domestic aviation body show that during the period under review, passenger volume at the airport stood at 264 525 compared to 211 379 during the same period in 2017.
The increase in passenger volume has raised hope that the country is on course to surpass the country’s 2018 tourists’ arrivals target of 2.5 million.
Employers Association for Tourism and Safari Operators president Mr Clement Mukwasi said the passenger volume is encouraging adding that operators should position themselves to benefit from influx of tourists.
“We are excited as an industry by the continued surge in passenger traffic at the upgraded Victoria Falls International Airport. This obviously means more business for the operators and the clarion call is for all players to position themselves to meet the increased demand for services,” he said.
There are currently eight airlines serving the Victoria Falls route namely South African Airlink, Fastjet, Air Zimbabwe, South African Airways, British Airways, Kenya Airways, Air Namibia and Ethiopian Airways.
Meanwhile, a survey titled ‘Victoria Falls Gateway’ conducted by tourism group Africa Albida, shows that the Zimbabwean side of the majestic Victoria Falls recorded total visitor entries of 317 778 in 2017 which translates to 36 percent compared to those recorded in 2016.
The upgrading of the Victoria Falls International Airport resulted in its passenger handling capacity being increased from 500 000 to 1.5 million per annum.
Analysts say though the recent growth in tourists’ traffic is commendable, stakeholders need to double efforts to ensure that the assets is fully utilised to reach the 1.5 million passengers per annum.