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Friday 24 April 2020

Cash crisis in Victoria Falls

Leonard Ncube, Victoria Falls Reporter
VICTORIA Falls residents are failing to access their cash as financial institutions have either remained closed or have no cash at their disposal for withdrawals due to the Covid-19 induced lockdown.
Financial institutions including banks closed their banking halls in the wake of the national lockdown as part of measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
They urged people to utilise online banking facilities, which have turned out to be unreliable especially for those earning in foreign currency.
Even mobile money agents have also closed shop and informed their clients to transact electronically. Concerned depositors have appealed for re-opening of banks at least once a week during the lockdown for them to access their money in foreign currency.
Following concerns by citizens, President Mnangagwa two weeks ago directed Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Dr John Mangudya to ensure that international money transfer agents open to enable citizens to access funds from their relatives abroad.
The international money transfer agents include World Remit, Western Union, Money Gram and Mukuru. Some of these are offered within banking halls.
Although some of the banks have opened to offer such services, they have remained closed for withdrawals leaving those who earn in foreign currency such as tourism workers in Victoria Falls and Hwange stranded.
In Victoria Falls, some tourism players paid their workers this week but access to the funds remains a challenge.
Residents have been frequenting the Victoria Falls Central Business District where they queue in front of banking halls hoping that they might open oblivious of dangers of not observing social distancing.
The newscrew observed that at some banks, workers will be inside the banking halls doing other duties but not open for withdrawals while others will be serving remittance clients.
Western Union service has been reportedly offline countrywide since the start of the week leaving clients stranded while some financial institutions said they were failing to transport cash from their head offices to outlying branches because of the lockdown.
Some bank tellers said they were attending to those making deposits as they desperately need cash. Sometimes players in the tourism industry would pay workers in hard cash as they had direct access to cash from tourism, a privilege affected by Covid-19 which led to cancellation of bookings by tourists and subsequently closure of the whole industry because of lack of business.
Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe Victoria Falls chapter chair Mr Anald Musonza said none of the employers have cash to pay workers.
“Most companies are paying varying percentages of workers’ salaries with the majority giving them 50 percent for this month. There has been an issue with access to funds and we have escalated it with various bank managers to facilitate as most claim the lockdown affected their access to cash. We hope it will be resolved soon so that workers can access their money,” said Mr Musonza.
Consumer rights association (CRA) spokesperson Mr Effie Ncube implored Government to ensure banks are opened. — @ncubeleon.
Source: Cash crisis in Victoria Falls (24/04/20)

Thursday 23 April 2020

Victoria Falls Reaches It’s Highest Level In A Decade

The Victoria Falls appears to be thoroughly enjoying its alone time, reaching its highest flows in a decade in a powerful display of breath-taking beauty and intensity, which ironically no one is there to witness.
The Victoria Falls rainforest is closed, as like the rest of the world, Zimbabwe is in lockdown to protect against the coronavirus pandemic. However, when the time is right it will reopen, and the Victoria Falls will still be magnificent.
Zambezi River Authority public relations and communications manager Elizabeth Karonga said the high-water levels were due to a significant increase in both rainfall and run-off in the catchment area upstream of Victoria Falls during the current rainfall season.
Authority data shows four times more water is now flowing over the world’s largest waterfall than at this time last year – on April 20, 3,922 cubic metres per second was recorded compared to 1,007 cubic metres per second on April 20, 2019.  
The Zambezi River normally experiences two peaks or floods, which are more evident in the upper catchment area, upstream from Victoria Falls, and depending on their magnitude, their effects are translated downstream,” Karonga said.
The first wave of floodwaters was recorded at Victoria Falls on March 31, 2020 with a peak flow of 4,289 cubic metres per second, and the second reached the Victoria Falls on April 14, and water levels were, again, rising, Karonga said.
The flow at the Victoria Falls from the second flood is expected to peak by end of April at more than 4,300 cubic metres per second, she added.
The flows at the Victoria Falls have not been this high since 2010, when they were slightly higher; they were also higher in 2009 and 1978, but the highest flows ever recorded were in 1958 when the peak flow reached an incredible 9,436 cubic metres per second, she said.  
In coming weeks, the rise in flows at the Victoria Falls will continue until the rainfall upstream subsides, leading to a reduction in the Zambezi River flows, and subsequently reduced flows at the Victoria Falls. The Falls are expected to peak at the end of May this year.
Ross Kennedy, chief executive of Zimbabwean hospitality group Africa Albida Tourism, said nature continued to show off her power and influence over our lives! 
“At a time when the world is in trouble the Zambezi River and the Victoria Falls display immense beauty, rugged power and a glorious snub to the current negatives,” Kennedy said. 
“It has been quite some time since anyone witnessed the majesty and intensity of this level of water flowing over the Victoria Falls, with the last period of such floods being ten years ago.
“What a sad and disappointing irony it is, that at this time that one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World is at its absolute finest, the world is in lockdown and very few if any will get to witness or experience this iconic destination in all its splendour,” he added.
“But, of course, nature being what it is, Victoria Falls will flood again and will be there to impress, enthral and excite many millions of tourists in the decades ahead.”
Africa Albida Tourism operates a portfolio of properties in Victoria Falls, which include Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, as well as Victoria Falls Safari Club, Victoria Falls Safari Suites, Lokuthula Lodges and The Boma – Dinner & Drum Show.

Thursday 16 April 2020

Two Tourists Arrested For Trespassing At Victoria Falls During Lockdown

Two tourists are reported to have been arrested yesterday for allegedly trespassing at the Victoria Falls rainforest which is currently closed in compliance with the national lockdown. Zimbabwe joined other countries across the globe last month in enforcing a total national lockdown in a bid to slow the outbreak of the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak which has seen most businesses coming to a halt.

According to Zimbabwe Parks Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) spokesperson Tinashe Farawo, the two tourists from Germany and France were on Tuesday intercepted trying to gain entry into the Victoria Falls rainforest. Speaking on the matter with local publication DailyNews, he said:

"‘We can confirm that two foreigners, one from Germany and another one from France were intercepted this morning after attempting to enter into the rain forest in Victoria Falls. We are on high alert, the Victoria Falls entrance is closed due to the lockdown which is currently underway, we are complying with government directive.

"We understand the anxiety and hunger that our tourists have as they want to view the majestic Victoria Falls. We encourage them to be patient they must be at home for now and visit tomorrow. They were fined $300 and released."

The tourism sector is one of the industries hard-hit by the coronavirus outbreak which has seen most countries shutting their borders as a drastic but necessary measure to fight the pandemic.

Saturday 4 April 2020

Victoria Falls a Ghost Town

CLEAR streets occasionally flooded by baboons and warthogs now characterise the once busy Victoria Falls central business district which has turned into a ghost town overnight.

When the outbreak of the novel coronavirus was first confirmed in China in December 2019, the town was teeming with tourists.

Four months into another year, Victoria Falls is grounded with no tourism activity and all hotels are closed.

While there is life in residential areas where people have defied Government calls to stay at home, the CBD is completely deserted as there are no tourists in town. 

However, being the country’s prime destination and biggest contributor to 2,29 million annual arrivals recorded in 2019, Victoria Falls’ situation is critical as the town’s economy is solely dependent on tourism.

About 90 percent of jobs in the town are supported by tourism with the majority of the over 30 000 workforce relying on the sector.

Hotels closed on Tuesday after recording unprecedented zero occupancies and are planning to open after three months despite the lockdown ending in three  weeks’ time.

Tour operators also suspended all activities with airlines also cutting flights leaving the resort town with no visitors and source of revenue. 

Curio markets, curio shops, restaurants, hotels and the Rainforest are some of the places that closed thereby grounding the whole town.

All activities ranging from helicopter flights, canoeing, bungee jumping, gorge swing, white water rafting, game drives, to village tours and tour of the Rainforest have all been suspended as there are no clients.

A day in the economy of Victoria Falls consists of a travel agent who from anywhere in the world books a tourist with a hotel.

The next thing the tourist flies or drives through the border and is welcomed by a local agent and taxi driver who take him or her to a hotel.

At the hotel the tourist is served by a reservationist before a porter leads him or her to a room and is served with food by a waiter.

There is a tour guide from an operator who is waiting to accompany the tourist for a tour on different activities after which he or she goes for shopping. The tourists also briefly stop at supermarkets to buy food stuffs or occasionally go out for dinner at different eateries dotted around town. 

There is also a villager in surrounding communal areas waiting to showcase African culture through traditional food and dance among other things during village tours.

From airport to the hotel and eateries, there are traditional dance groups waiting to entice visitors with their well-choreographed traditional music and dance while all this is captured by a video and photographer who follows every activity.

Illegal vendors who masquerade as agents are also not left out as they chase after visitors selling old Bearers’ Cheques which tourists love to buy for souvenirs.

Sadly, the whole value chain has been cut by Covid-19 and people are grounded.

Mr Gilbert Tshuma, a curio vendor said: “We have never heard about Victoria Falls being closed. Even this Sinathankawu market has never been closed throughout the history of the town. This was our source of income and we are left hopeless.”

Taxi drivers also literally have no one to transport in the absence of tourists. A taxi driver Mr Kevin Muleya said they were in a fix.

“We carry both locals and tourists and it’s not a secret that most of our revenue is from tourists who pay in foreign currency as opposed to locals who pay in Zimdollar. We have parked our cars and waiting to see if there will be life after this. Many of us were driving hired cars where we pay owners every month and at the same time take care of our children hence you can see how we have been affected,” he said. 

Zimbabwe Tourism Authority acting chief executive Mr Givemore Chidzidzi said Victoria Falls just like any part of the country is closed to any visitors.

“The current situation is what was desired in the face of Covid-19, that no one travels so that there is no more transmission. Hotel occupancy and entry into the Rainforest is zero and the facilities are closed for periods extending beyond the lockdown. That was the whole idea of the worldwide lockdown,” said Mr Chidzidzi.

He said this is the time for various authorities involved in tourism to attend to issues that are usually not easy to address during busy periods.

Mr Chidzidzi said the municipality and other stakeholders can now rehabilitate roads, signage and other facilities.

Tourism executive Mr Clement Mukwasi concurred saying the recession should be used to clean the city especially removing the deadly lantana camara in the Victoria Falls National Park’s Rainforest.

Victoria Falls town clerk Mr Ronnie Dube however said no maintenance work can be done around town because of the lockdown and resource constraints. 

“The town looks like a ghost town. It has never happened in the history of Victoria Falls. Funny enough this has happened at a time when the river has drastically increased in its flow but sadly there are no tourists to witness this,” he said.

Hope is not lost though.

The thunderous sound of the mighty Victoria Falls is back as water level has significantly risen on the Zambezi River giving hope a rebound of the tourism sector after the Covid-19 threat has been dealt with.

Authorities have said as of Last Friday water levels in the Zambezi River in Chavuma, Zambia has gone up 523 percent compared to its levels during the same time last year, thereby increasing flows to the Falls. 

Source: Vic Falls a Ghost Town (03/04/20)

Friday 3 April 2020

Victoria Falls closed indefinitely

The Victoria Falls, a world heritage site, has been closed indefinitely with immediate effect, the Zambian government announced Wednesday.

In a letter addressed to the Livingstone Tourism Association (LTA) and signed by National Heritage and Conservation Commission Regional Director Oliver Kandyata, the director said that the closure was compelled by the outbreak of the COVID-19.
"The decision to close the site has been necessitated by the issue of the COVID-19 so that the public strictly adheres to the Ministry of Health guidelines with regards to the control of the disease," the letter read in part.
The Victoria Falls, locally known as Mosi-O-Tunya (translated as smoke that thunders) is one of Seven Wonders of the World and one of Zambia's most visited tourist destinations.
The falls is said to be the largest curtain of falling water in the world and is shared between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwean authorities have also closed the gates to the Victoria Falls National Park due to COVID-19.