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Thursday 28 December 2023

Council to turn Vic Falls into ‘little Las Vegas’

VICTORIA Falls City Council is planning to transform the resort city into a world-class destination by turning it into the “Little Vegas of Zimbabwe.”

Las Vegas is a sprawling neon-washed city in the sunny desert State of Nevada in the United States.

The US city bills itself as the entertainment capital of the World and is famous for its luxurious and extremely large casino hotels.

With over 2,9 million visitors as of 2019, Las Vegas is the sixth-most visited city in the US, after New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, Orlando, and San Francisco.

With unique features such as the world’s largest waterfall, Mosi-oa-Tunya, on the mighty Zambezi River, and surrounded by national parks, Victoria Falls is a rare gem with vast tourism potential.

Victoria Falls attained city status in December 2019 making it a competitive destination. The subsequent massive infrastructure growth augurs well with the local authority plans for a Little Vegas.

The ongoing developments dovetail with Government plans to transform Victoria Falls into a conferencing capital, with a multi-purpose convention centre, top-notch facilities such as five-star hotels, a medical centre, a university, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces camp, and sporting facilities among others.

The growth taking place in Victoria Falls is within the framework of the Victoria Falls-Hwange-Binga Special Economic Zone, which seeks to integrate the broader tourism economy with agriculture and mining as well as the rich natural environment to promote eco-tourism activities.

Tourism is one of the country’s major foreign currency earners and employs thousands of people in the value chain.

Under the Second Republic, Victoria Falls continues to attract increased investments in new facilities as evidenced by the number of hotels and lodges being constructed.

In 2020, the President launched the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy anchored on Zimbabwe’s vision to be a prime international tourist destination based on the judicious and sustainable exploitation of the unique assets of nature, culture, heritage, and the built environment.

The strategy is informed by the Government’s Vision 2030 to become an upper middle-income economy characterised by increased investment, and decent jobs.

The high growth target of this strategy seeks to achieve a US$5 billion tourism economy and Victoria Falls is a strategic destination whose operations have a huge bearing on the attainment of that target.

The city and its environs is the gateway into Zimbabwe and developments, especially in the tourism sector, help build a positive image of the country as well as position Victoria Falls as a world-class destination.

Victoria Falls is a strategic destination whose operations have a huge bearing on the attainment of Vision 2030.

Guided by the national vision, Victoria Falls City Council has big plans for the destination to make it more competitive.

Speaking to stakeholders recently, Victoria Falls City economy development and marketing manager Mr Ngqabutho Moyo said opportunities that are in Victoria Falls can make the city operate round the clock.

He said there are opportunities for investors in tourism and hospitality, sports and entertainment among others.

Mr Moyo said the local authority, by being the home city of Victoria Falls, is working on strategies to lure investments to diversify the city’s economy.

“We learnt a lesson during Covid-19 when the city was literally shut down. So, we thought as a city we needed to diversify our products and include sports, medical, cultural, and other tourism products,” he said.

“We want to turn the destination into a family and 24-hour city like Las Vegas. It is also our hope that we will reach that stage.”

According to the 2022 census report, Victoria Falls has a population of 40 000 people.

During peak periods in Victoria Falls, nightlife has remained low except on days when there are annual major events such as the Carnival, Econet Marathon and Mapopoma Festival, which is expected this week.

Conferences have in the past helped ignite nightlife in the resort city as delegates patronise night spots.

Victoria Falls, which is in Hwange District and shares some of the facilities with Hwange Rural District Council.

Victoria Falls Council is courting investors to build a state-of-the-art civic centre to house the council offices, a five-star hotel and other facilities as part of promoting the destination.

Source: Council to turn Vic Falls into ‘little Las Vegas’ (27/12/23)

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Controversial Project Proposed for Victoria Falls (Zambia)

'Victoria Falls Live Project' proposes 'Charity Concert' from Livingstone Island on edge of the World Heritage Wonder - Concerns over Impacts - Sacred Site

19th December 2023

The Zambian government has announced its support for an event promoted as a 'ground-breaking charity concert for nature' to be staged at the Victoria Falls in 2024.

Concerns have been expressed, however, over the impact of the proposed event on the fragile environment of the Falls, which is also a sacred cultural site and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Victoria Falls Live Project Visualisation

Digital visualisation of the Victoria Falls Live Project 

Details of the Victoria Falls Live Project were released in media statement from Diamond TV Zambia on social media on Friday 15th December.

"The Victoria Falls, is set to be the stage for a new charity concert. The Victoria Falls Live Project, a collaboration between Global Creative Studio Immersive Intl and Agusta Prod. in partnership with WWF, will unite music, nature & innovation in support of saving our planet. 

"The concert will feature renowned Zambian, African, and international artists, all coming together to perform and celebrate the beauty and importance of the surrounding nature. A unique musical collaboration between Zambian singer-songwriters James Sakala, Wezi, and Italian composer Giovanni Agusta is set to open the concert. More artists and acts are being confirmed and will be announced early next year."

The project involves using Livingstone Island as the performance stage for a live music event supported by a light and laser presentation utilising the Falls as a backdrop as illustrated by digitally enhanced promotional images.

Visualisation of the Victoria Falls Live Project

Digital visualisation of the Victoria Falls Live Project

Presidential Approval

A promotional feature released online by Diamond TV Zambia includes an endorsement by President Hakainde Hichilema and interviews with Tommy Lexen, Managing Director of Immersive International and Italian composer Giovanni Agusta Director of Agusta Productions. The two men are also jointly named as Directors of Victoria Falls Project Live Ltd (incorporated in the UK on 8 December 2023).

Green Clams

Zambian Minister of Tourism, Rodney Sikumba, claimed the project is a climate focussed charity concert with a call on saving the planet.

"This concept for a climate-focused charity concert has come at the right time. We are excited to invite the world to see our incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site, the captivating Victoria Falls, in a new and truly unique way," he said.

The grand claims of raising awareness of ­climate change, and involvement of WWF Zambia, appear to be attempts to give thin veneer of 'green' credibility to the event, which appears in every other aspect to be totally incompatible with such a sensitive site.

WWF Zambia have confirmed their involvement in the project on social media, claiming that the Victoria Falls Live Project will be solely a virtual event. 

Unsuitable Impacts

While there may not be crowds viewing the event, there will still be significant disturbance within the fragile area of the Victoria Falls 'rainforest,' supposedly protected within National Parks on both sides of the river.

Nocturnal noise and light pollution from the event are likely to create significant disturbance to local wildlife.

A spokesperson for Keep Victoria Falls Wild, a campaigning group raising awareness of tourism development pressures and their impacts at the Falls, commented: "The authorities of Zambia and Zimbabwe appear determined to drive away all the wildlife, from bushuck and elephants to hornbills and owls, from Falls and its surroundings. Whilst it appears there is a total lack of understanding as to the sensitive ecology of the Falls, they no doubt hope to develop yet more riverside lodges, restaurants and host yet more events such as the Victoria Falls Live Project. However it is the stunning natural landscape and amazing local wildlife which attracts visitors from around the world. They risk loosing not only the World Heritage Site status, but also undermining  the valuable tourism upon which their local and national economies depend. Not to mention the desecration of a sacred cultural site."

Limited Benefits

Details of the proposed event are vague, although it appears there will only be limited benefits for the local tourism sector with the event being promoted as a virtual event to be broadcast to a 'global audience.'

While WWF Zambia are supposedly the charity benefactors of the event, they have limited involvement with the local community or conservation initiatives. Local Livingstone residents have been left wondering who will benefit from the event.

Sacred Site

Livingstone Island is also sacred cultural site, the mists below and ever-present rainbow above the Falls being associated with the ancestor spirits.

On his first visit Livingstone recorded that three islands at the lip of the Falls were used by the three local Leya chiefs for offerings to the ‘Barimo,’ but identifies only one of these sites - now known as Livingstone Island, recording the following in his 'Missionary Travels' on his first arrival and sight of the Falls from this island on its very edge in 1855.

“At three spots near these Falls, one of them the island in the middle, on which we were, three Batoka chiefs offered up prayers and sacrifices to the Barimo. They chose their places of prayer within the sound of the roar of the cataract, and in sight of the bright bows in the cloud...

“The play of colors of the double iris on the cloud, seen by them elsewhere only as the rainbow, may have led them to the idea that this was the abode of Deity. Some of the Makololo... looked upon the same sign with awe. When seen in the heavens it is named 'motse oa barimo' - the pestle of the gods.

“Here they could approach the emblem, and see it stand steadily above the blustering uproar below - a type of Him who sits supreme - alone unchangeable, though ruling over all changing things. But, not aware of His true character, they had no admiration of the beautiful and good in their bosoms. They did not imitate His benevolence, for they were a bloody, imperious crew, and Sebituane performed a noble service in the expulsion from their fastnesses of these cruel 'Lords of the Isles' [Sekute and the other Leya chiefs]

“Having feasted my eyes long on the beautiful sight, I returned to my friends at Kalai, and saying to Sekeletu that he had nothing else worth showing in his country, his curiosity was excited to visit it the next day." (Livingstone, 1857, p.523-4)

World Heritage Site in Danger?

The Victoria Falls are globally known as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but perhaps not for much longer. Recent tourism developments on both sides of the Falls have contravened management plans agreed with UNESCO aimed at projecting the integrity of the Falls environment and resulted in repeated warnings from the World Heritage Committee.

The construction of the Zambian Mosi-oa-Tunya Resort, developed on the edge of the World Heritage Site (and in a recognised wildlife movement corridor favoured by Livingstone's local elephant herd) caused widespread negative reaction and resulted in a site visit by UNESCO representatives in February 2022 to assess the negative impacts of the development and combined impacts of tourism development pressures across the site, the report raising serious concerns over the future viability of the World Heritage Site:

"The mission also observed that the property is facing increasing threats from individual and cumulative infrastructure developments, whose footprints are inside the property, its buffer zone or in its wider setting... If the proposed and future developments proceed without the appropriate level of consideration for the environment in which the property is located and for which it is inscribed, as well the cumulative impacts from the different individual developments, the OUV [Outstanding Universal Values] could be considered to be in danger in the near future."

Since the visit a wave of further development proposals have emerged on the Zimbabwean side of the river, including the construction of the Baines Restaurant on the Zimbabwean side of the river, immediately above the Falls (opened in mid-2023).

Supporting Information

Livingstone island is leased as a tourism concession to Tongabezi Safaris, operators of Tongabezi Lodge. who operate tours to the island and opportunity to swim in the pools on the very lip of the Falls, the 'Devil's Pool.' The lodge is currently managed by Green Safaris.

The Victoria Falls was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989. The site is managed by the National Heritage Conservation Commission (Zambia) and Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimbabwe).

Keep Victoria Falls Wild is a campaigning group raising awareness of tourism development pressures and their impacts at the Falls. Visit for more information.


Keep Victoria Falls Wild (August 2023) 2023 State of Development Final Report (pdf, 7.2mb, opens in a new window)

World Heritage Committee (2023) Final Joint Mission Report Mosi-oa-Tunya, Victoria Falls (Zambia/ Zimbabwe) 9-13 February 2022 (pdf, 3.3 mb, opens in a new window)