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 due for publication in early 2017. Please visit the Zambezi Book Company website for more information.
Stability and Growth
Hotel operators in the Victoria Falls recorded rising occupancy levels in 2011 with growth from existing markets and new markets such as Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
“According to occupancy records at seven different hotels, covering a total of 1,008 rooms, arrivals into the destination were up by 20%, based on the same seven-month period last year (January to July). This translates into 13,193 extra rooms occupied (63 per night) over the same period in 2010.” (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, August 2011)
General Manager of The Victoria Falls Hotel, Karl Snater, reported that the Hotel experienced “an increase in occupancies from 2010 for all months except March, with July showing a massive 21% increase in occupancy from last year.” Ross Kennedy, director of Africa Albida Tourism and a director of the African Travel and Tourism Association recorded:
“Victoria Falls Safari Lodge had the best July occupancy in 10 years at 70%. The Boma Place of Eating had its second best July ever. Only July 2007 saw more covers per night at an average of 183, while 2011 had on average 163 per night. The settling and stability of the economy since dollarisation in 2009 has meant that the supply chain has normalised and is thus operating to international standards. In addition it has meant that use of foreign currency, pricing and access to goods has normalised and we are once again a tourist-friendly destination” (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, August 2011)
Kennedy noted that the UK market, along with other traditional markets that had been ‘staying away’ from Zimbabwe for the last decade, had started to return, and that many tourism operators and agents who had moved their business over the river to Zambia between 2000 and 2010 were also returning thanks to the success of local destination marketing campaigns such as the ‘Go To Victoria Falls’ initiative. Nationally tourism arrivals to Zimbabwe climbed to 2,423,000 in 2011, generating $662 million over the period.
May 2011 saw the reopening of the upgraded four-star and 87-room A’Zambezi River Lodge following a $4.5 renovation programme, including development of a 100-seater Conference Centre.
The Bridge bungee briefly became world news when a freak accident occurred on New Year Eve 2011. During 22-year-old Australian Erin Langworthy’s jump the bungee cord snapped and she fell head-first into the Zambezi River. Miraculously she survived with just minor injuries (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, Jan 2012).
Zimbabwe recorded 767,250 tourist arrivals over the first half of 2012, and achieved a year end total of 1,794,000, earned $749 million in receipts.
A total of 198,000 visitors toured the Victoria Falls Rainforest in 2012, a significant increase on 146,203 visitors recorded the previous year. Approximately half of these visitors were foreign tourists. The Zambezi National Park received 70,980 visitors, up from 56,475 in 2011 (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, Jan 2013).
In mid 2012 the Jafuta Heritage Centre opened at the Elephant’s Walk complex, free to visitors and displaying a comprehensive collection of traditional cultural artefacts and information on the human history of the Falls region. The Centre is managed by the Jafuta Foundation, a non-profit organisation with the aim of preserving the traditional cultural and material history of the region.
Victoria Falls Safari Club
Africa Albida Tourism expanded facilities at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge estate with the construction of the 20-room luxury Victoria Falls Safari Club, opened in August 2012 at a development cost of $2.7 million.
Major hotels in Victoria Falls earned over $23 million from sales of nearly 178,000 rooms in 2013, up from $19 million and 159,000 rooms in 2012, as tourism showed continued signs of recovery and renewed British interest, with arrivals from the UK trebling against the previous year. Mr Kennedy reflected 2013 had been a good year for the largest hotels in the Falls:
“2013 showed an increase in arrivals of nearly 12 percent over the 2012 calendar year; but equally, if not more importantly, revenues grew by 20 percent in the same period.” (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, April 2014)
Nationally Zimbabwe recorded 1,833,500 tourism arrivals in 2013, having recorded first-half year figures of 860,000, and annual receipts of $856 million.
In mid-2013 a new luxury cruise boat, the Zambezi Explorer, arrived on the Zambezi, having been built in Harare and transported to the Falls by road - no small task for a hull 27 metres in length, over seven metres wide and eight metres in height. The three-decked Zambezi Explorer accommodates 140 passengers and offers premium standards of service, complete with on board food galley. All of the vessel’s state-of-the-art inboard facilities run exclusively on solar energy, which together with fuel-efficient engines, minimise the environmental impact of its operation and set new standards for the sector.
Private riverside safari concessions were developed upstream of the Falls in the Zambezi National Park with the opening two riverside safari operations in 2013 - the 12-bed tented Pioneers Camp and the 26-bed Victoria Falls River Lodge.
Zambezi Sands River Camp, part of the Imvelo group, opened in August 2014, with a 16-bed tented lodge located in the western part of the Zambezi National Park.
In August 2013 the Victoria Falls Hotel hosted the opening reception of the 20th Session of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation general assembly, jointly hosted by the towns of Livingstone and Victoria Falls. The event attracted more than a thousand delegates and VIP guests from across the world and provided a significant boost to local tourism, as well as giving Zimbabwe valuable international marketing exposure as a tourism destination.
As nightfall gathered the Victoria Falls Bridge was illuminated as part of a new installation celebrating the joint event, with Telecel announcing a $100,000 sponsorship of the illumination the Bridge over the next 15 years.
In their inaugural addresses, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and President Michael Sata of Zambia called for increased support for sustainable tourism and capacity building that promotes infrastructure development, environmental awareness, ecosystems and cultural diversity, and improves the welfare and livelihoods of local communities.
Addressing delegates at the opening session, the UNWTO Secretary General, Taleb Rifai, underscored the event as “A timely opportunity for all of us to continue along an encouraging path to drive tourism towards its fullest potential in fostering sustainable economic growth, jobs and development, and what better backdrop to do so than here in Africa, a region where we believe tourism can be a true force for good” (UNWTO, 2013).
In December 2013 Cresta Hotels launched the new Cresta Sprayview Hotel, after a $1.75 million redevelopment. The reception area, 65 bedrooms, one restaurant, two bars and two conference rooms were completely remodelled and refurbished. The Hotel, originally known as Peter’s Motel, was built in the late 1960s by the Gardini family (whose construction company built many of the hotels in the town), before being revamped and renamed as the Sprayview Hotel.
The Victoria Falls Carnival, ‘a three-day festival of music, performance, dance, adventure and fun’ held over the New Year, soon became a significant annual event, bringing performers and visitors from across the region to the Victoria Falls. Accommodation providers recorded 100 percent occupancies as thousands of revellers descended on the small town, swamping facilities and services.
New Year music festivals in the Falls started in 2009 with the ‘Falls Fest,’ operating from the central Victoria Falls Rest Camp. The festival ran for three successful years, attracting significant numbers of national and regional tourists to the Falls, before the establishment of the Carnival in 2012.
The Victoria Falls Rainforest recorded 16,573 visitors over a 10 day period to 2nd January 2014, of which just over 5,000 were international visitors from outside of Africa. Entrance fee revenues totalled over $270,000, with international receipts totalling $147,510, regional $75,410 and nationals $49,709 (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, Jan 2014).