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 Falls recorded rising occupancy levels during 2011 with growth from new markets such as Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Occupancy rates for the seven largest hotels in the Falls, offering a combined total of just over 1,000 rooms, were up twenty percent in the first half of the year. Overall annual average occupancy, however, remained low at just over thirty percent (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, August 2011a). 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)
Mr 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, thanks to the success of local destination marketing campaigns such as the ‘Go To Victoria Falls’ initiative, and that many tourism operators and agents who had moved their business over the river to Zambia between 2000 and 2010 were also returning. Nationally tourism arrivals to Zimbabwe climbed to 2,423,000 in 2011, generating $662 million over the period. The upgraded four-star and 91-room A’Zambezi River Lodge reopened in May following a $4.5 million renovation programme, including development of a 100-seater Conference Centre.
During 2011 local tourism operator Wild Horizons proposed operating tours to Cataract Island from the south bank, having received permission to use the island for tourism purposes. The isolated island is a valuable refuge for the fragile rainforest flora sustained by the spray of the Falls - and highly impacted by visitor numbers across the rest of the site. After consulting local opinion on the proposal Wild Horizons withdrew their plans on the understanding that the island would continue to be protected in its pristine natural state.
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 just short of its maximum extension and she dropped 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, earning $749 million in receipts. A combined total of 198,000 visitors toured the Falls on both sides of the river, a significant increase on 146,203 visitors recorded in 2011. Approximately half of these visitors were foreign tourists (Victoria Falls World Heritage Site Joint Report 2014). The Zambezi National Park received 70,980 visitors, up from 56,475 in 2011 (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, Jan 2013). The town’s total population was estimated at 33,718 in 2012 (CSO, 2012).
In mid 2012 the Jafuta Heritage Centre opened at the Elephant’s Walk complex, displaying a comprehensive collection of local 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 culture and material history of the region.
The main accommodation providers in the Falls, now represented by eight hotels, recorded combined revenues of over $23 million and 178,000 visitor room-nights in 2013, up from $19 million and 159,000 room bookings the previous year. A combined total of 252,800 tourists visited the Falls in 2013 (Victoria Falls World Heritage Site Joint Report 2014). Tourism from Britain showed significant signs of recovery, with arrivals from the United Kingdom trebling against the previous year (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 within the Zambezi National Park with the opening several independent safari operations - the 26-bed Victoria Falls River Lodge (opened in April 2012) and the 12-bed tented Pioneers Camp (opened in mid 2013), located close to the site of the Old Drift river crossing. Zambezi Sands River Camp, opened in 2014 with a 16-bed tented lodge located in the western part of the Zambezi National Park.
In August 2013 the 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 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 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).
On 26 November 2013 a team of Livingstone Fire Brigade servicemen, together with Zambian Police and staff from the Victoria Falls Bridge Bungee, were called to rescue a tourist who fell into the gorge from the north bank. Wang ShunXue, a 45 year old Chinese national, fell into gorge near the knife-edge bridge as he was taking pictures of himself with the Falls in the background, thus becoming the first person known to fall into the gorge whilst taking a ‘selfie.’ Fortunately he survived without serious injury (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, Nov 2013).
In December 2013 Cresta Hotels launched the redeveloped Cresta Sprayview Hotel, after a $1.75 million investment of the old Sprayview Motel, closed for many years. The reception area, 65 bedrooms, one restaurant, two bars and two conference rooms were completely remodelled and refurbished.
The Vic Falls Carnival, ‘a three-day festival of music, performance, dance, adventure and fun’ held over the New Year, soon became a significant annual event, attracting performers and visitors from across the region. Accommodation providers recorded 100 percent occupancies as thousands of revellers descended on the small town, swamping facilities and services. New Year festivals in the Falls started in 2009 with the ‘Falls Fest,’ operating from the central Victoria Falls Rest Camp, before the establishment of the Carnival in 2012 and which has been held annually since.
The Falls Rainforest recorded an incredible 16,573 visitors and entrance fee revenues in excess of $270,000 over a 10 day period to 2nd January 2014, with international visitor entrance fee receipts totalling over US$147,500, regional receipts US$75,400 and Zimbabwe nationals US$49,700 (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, Jan 2014).