Good Times for Victoria Falls Again
by Charlotte Musarurwa
GOOD times are rolling again for Victoria falls, the country’s most popular tourist resort.
After a decade-long slump in business, the World Heritage Site is now showing signs of recovery.
Those who operate in the town kept their fingers crossed during the hard times and their patience is slowly being rewarded.
Many tourists in the past 10 years were shunning the Zimbabwean side of the waterfalls, preferring the Zambian view.
Yet the number of visitors to the Zimbabwean side had traditionally been much higher due to improved infrastructure and a fantastic vantage point.
As a result, hotel occupancy declined to an average of 30 percent.
But Victoria Falls is witnessing a transformation despite the belief by some that the country’s political situation is hindering the arrival of tourists.
The town is now wearing a new look, with a hive of activity as tourists arrive on a daily basis.
A visit to the resort town last week revealed that most of the tourists come from as faraway as the United States, Spain, the United Kingdom and France.
Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry Walter Mzembi said the country had witnessed tremendous growth in the tourism sector, with Victoria Falls being the most improved.
“There is a universal acknowledgment that tourism has bounced back, especially the Victoria Falls,” he said.
“The Americans are on our number one list of arrivals. We are beginning to benefit because we are a peaceful and crime-free destination. We also offer unique products that you cannot find anywhere else in the world. (These include) the Victoria Falls, Kariba and the Eastern Highlands.”
Minister Mzembi said that most tourists had also changed their perception towards Zimbabwe.
The improvement in tourism has been acknowledged by different tourism bodies worldwide.
“The growth in tourism was acknowledged by the Executive Council at United Nations World Tourism Organisation general assembly in September last year, of which Zimbabwe is a member,” said Minister Mzembi.
In preparation for the 2010 Fifa World Cup held in South Africa, most hotels in Victoria Falls were upgraded to benefit from the largest event held in Africa.
A visit to the five-star trio of Kingdom at Victoria Falls, Elephant Hills Resort and The Victoria Falls Hotel revealed that they are now equipped with modern facilities, latest technologies and activities which favour the tourists.
Leisure, business, conferencing and other activities were spruced up with a classic international touch.
The general manager of Elephant Hills Resort, Mr Trythings Mutyandasvika, said hotel occupancy was improving with each passing day.
“We had really upgraded our facilities for the Fifa World Cup, but the turn-up of the visitors was not as expected, although we managed to host the Mexicans and the Argentinians who wanted to view the falls,” he said.
“Since that time tourists have been coming and the hotel occupancy has also increased.”
According to a recent report titled “Tourism Trends and Statistics Report 2010”, the effects of last year’s world soccer jamboree held in Africa for the first time largely contributed to the significant rise in tourist arrivals and hotel occupancy levels in Zimbabwe.
The report indicates that tourist arrivals in 2010 were 2 239 165, representing an 11 percent increase from the 2009 figure of 2 017 264.
Tourism receipts were pushed up to US$634 million from US$523 million recorded in 2009, representing a 21 percent increase from the comparative period.
Of the 2 239 165 arrivals received by Zimbabwe in 2010, Africa contributed 87 percent followed by Europe (6 percent), the Americas (3 percent) and Asia (2 percent).
Oceania and the Middle East contributed less than 2 percent.
Average hotel room occupancy levels also increased from 46 percent to 52 percent, while average bed occupancy levels rose from 35 percent to 36 percent last year compared to 2009. Almost all of the country’s regions experienced increases in room occupancy levels except for Harare and the Midlands. The border town of Beitbridge had the highest room occupancy (62 percent) and bed occupancy (59 percent), while
Victoria Falls remained with the highest foreign clientele composition at 63 percent.
This was probably because almost all foreign tourists want to catch a glimpse of the majestic Victoria Falls.
But observers note that inasmuch as most tourists are now visiting the Victoria Falls, the troubled Air Zimbabwe has disadvantaged a number of local tourists as they are forced to travel to South Africa to connect flights directly to the resort area.
Air Zimbabwe is facing multiple challenges with its debt soaring to US$100 million as a result of non-payment of service providers.
“The situation at Air Zimbabwe seems to be worsening; we call upon the Government to urgently review the situation,” said a player in the tourism industry.
“At least they should allow other airlines to come on board for our domestic, regional and international flights.”
The increase in the number of tourists visiting the Victoria Falls has come with the increase of legal and illegal vendors in the town.
Most of the local people earn a living through selling sculptures and wooden carvings to the tourists.
Mr Jameson Matava, who has been a vendor for the past four years at a market near the falls, said business picked up from last year.
“I can safely say business has really improved comparing with the previous years,” he said. “The increase in the number of tourists has forced some vendors to operate illegally because there is money to be realised.
“There were days when you would go home without any money, but now, on a good day I can take home US$340 a day, which is not bad.”
Zimbabwe dollar notes have proved to be a “money-maker” for the vendors who sell them to tourists as curious souvenirs.
But Mr Mutyandasvika said hotels had deployed tourism police for the safety of visitors.
It is hoped that Victoria Falls would continue to recover and attract more tourists.
There is no doubt that the recovery of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe’s tourist gem, signifies the change in fortunes for the hospitality sector.