To The Victoria Falls
Development of the Victoria Falls
The following text is adapted from 'Footsteps Through Time - A History of Travel and Tourism to the Victoria Falls', researched and written by Peter Roberts and published in 2017. Please visit the Zambezi Book Company website for more information.
In the Spotlight
In mid 2005 the Zimbabwe government launched the notorious Operation Murambatsvina (‘Clear out the Rubbish’), also known as Operation Restore Order, forcibly clearing informally developed urban areas in major cities and towns, including Chinotimba, the African suburb at the Falls (Sokwanele, 2005).
Justified by officials as a legitimate operation to crackdown against illegal housing and an effort to control crime and the spread of infectious diseases, the areas targeted were incidentally also strongholds of political opposition against the regime in recent elections. Homes were bulldozed and burned without notice as whole suburbs were raised to the ground. The United Nations estimated some 700,000 people were displaced from their homes nationwide.
Meanwhile the Zambian side of the river was operating at peak-season near-capacity, fuelling an increased growth in infrastructure development on the north bank. In 2004 visitors exploring the Zambian side of the Falls stood at 72,002. Political and economic uncertainty south of the river resulted in this figure jumping to 179,786 in 2005 (Zambian Ministry of Tourism and Arts, 2014).
The Zambian National Tourism Board (ZNTB) experimented with floodlighting of the Eastern Cataract during 2004, utilising lights which had been installed in 1989, but not used due to the controversy the caused. The development was short-lived, with the Environment Council of Zambia instructing the ZNTB terminate the project and remove the floodlights.
International arrivals to Zimbabwe fell to 1,558,500 in 2005. Visitors to the Falls Rainforest totalled 161,834 in 2005, declining to 134,010 in 2006. By 2006 average hotel occupancy on the Zimbabwean side of the Falls hovered to around 30 percent.
Come to Victoria Falls
In an effort to bypass negative perceptions of the country, tourism providers in Victoria Falls launched a campaign to directly market the destination.
“The improvement in output growth and receipts in the two years was a result of the tourism and hospitality sector efforts to manage the country’s damaged image through a perception management campaign which was rolled out in overseas markets. A Tourism and Image Building Task Force team was set up and tasked with the responsibility of mitigating the challenges in the sector and repositioning the country as ‘Africa’s Paradise.’ Led by the then Minister of Information and Publicity, the ‘Come to Victoria Falls’ campaign was rolled out. However, the political instability in the country and the elections of 2008 resulted in the deterioration of the sector in the year, overpowering the image-building efforts that had been implemented in the previous two years.” (Mugwati, Nkala and Mashiri, 2016)
International arrivals to Zimbabwe recovered to successive record highs of 2,286,500 in 2006 and 2,506,000 in 2007.
In October 2006 it was announced that the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) had awarded a concession to South Africa’s Legacy Group Holdings for a major new tourism development within the World Heritage Site. The announcement stimulated a UNESCO monitoring mission to investigate the proposed development.
The proposed $200 million Mosi-oa-Tunya Hotel and Country Club Estate Project planned to develop a tourist resort on a 550 acre riverside site in the National Park. The plans included two five-star hotels, an 18-hole golf course, conference centre and a marina on the Zambezi, all a short distance above the Falls.
After widespread negative public reaction and strong local opposition to the proposals, Zambia abandoned the project in December 2006. A moratorium on development within the WHS was subsequently imposed by UNESCO, pending agreement and implementation of a joint management plan for the site.
Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area
The Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) is a cooperative effort among five neighbouring countries - Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe - to link protected wildlife areas across international boundaries. The Victoria Falls is at the heart of the TFCA, near the meeting point of four of the five participating countries on the Zambezi at Kazungula.
This vast wilderness and wildlife area is the world’s largest transfrontier conservation project at approximately 520,000 square kilometres, a size rivalling that of France. Occupying the Okavango and Zambezi river basins, it includes 17 national parks and a host of game reserves, forest reserves, game management area, wildlife conservation and tourism concession reserves.
The region supports the largest contiguous population of African elephant, with more than 120,000 elephants recorded in recent aerial surveys from the Okavango/Chobe region, over 50,000 elephants in north-western Zimbabwe and 16,000 in north-eastern Namibia. Other focal species of conservation concern across the region include important populations of wild dog, lion and cheetah.
The TFCA was declared in 2006 with the signing of an Memorandum of Understanding between the five participating countries, followed by the signing of a formal Treaty in 2011 through which the park was legally established. The KAZA TFCA records its mission to ‘establish a world-class transfrontier conservation area and tourism destination in the Okavango and Zambezi river basin regions of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe within the context of sustainable development.’
A survey of tourism accommodation provision in the KAZA region, undertaken over 2004, estimated a bed-night capacity of 8,312 and a total annual guest-night figure of 782,200. Tourism revenues were estimated at over $100 million, with $89.4 million generated within the accommodation sector and $10.8 million by tour operators. Of the available accommodation capacity, 35 per cent was in Livingstone, 32 per cent in Victoria Falls, 17 in northern Botswana, 12 per cent in Caprivi and just four per cent along the Upper Zambezi.
“It is estimated that just over 318,640 guests spent one or more nights in the accommodation enterprises, and 782,200 bednights were sold in the region. Livingstone made 39 per cent of total KAZA TFCA sales, Victoria Falls made 25 per cent, northern Botswana [Chobe] made 23 per cent., Caprivi sold nine per cent of total bednights and establishments along the Upper Zambezi sold the remaining four per cent.” (Suich, Busch and Barbancho, 2005)