Growth trend is real and sustainable
Good news on tourism has been coming hard and fast out of Zimbabwe since the end of the Mugabe era in November last year.
In recent weeks, Tourism Update has reported on government intentions to improve the aviation network between tourism locations, upgrade airports and equipment, as well as ease up on entry regulations.
From Victoria Falls, there is news of rising hotel occupancies, new lodges and property upgrades, renewed MICE interest and an airport filled to capacity at times.
Three months into the new political dispensation, the Victoria Falls tourism plant is upbeat. According to Simon Teede, GM of Bushtracks Africa Zimbabwe, a decline in tourism during the changeover of government has since stabilised and 2018 looks encouraging. He estimates 310 000 visitors to the Falls this year, up from 200 000 last year.
Gary Archer, CEO of Wild Horizons, concurs: “The positive sentiment surrounding Zimbabwe has certainly translated into improved inbound tourism in our experience. It is evident that the peaceful transition has allowed Zimbabwe to once again portray its true colours and highlight this beautiful destination and its wonderful people. Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls inbound tourism is certainly on the rise and we are cautiously optimistic for 2018 and expect our tourist numbers to continue to grow.”
Statistics offered by Africa Albida Tourism CEO, Ross Kennedy, present strong evidence of the upturn. In January, Victoria Falls recorded an increase in room sales of 18% over January 2017, with over 80% being international guests delivering a well improved ARR and Revpar.
“Looking ahead with a view of our forward bookings and talking to colleagues in Vic Falls, it is clear that the growth trend is real, sustainable and exciting in 2018. There are clear signs of the first four months being as much as 25%-30% better than last year, with significant pressure on high season already,” comments Kennedy.
Countries expected to lead the flow back into Victoria Falls are the US, UK, Australia, Germany and Japan. Regional tourism is expected to show growth, as is domestic traffic.
Kennedy says there are very clear signs of government commitment to enhance support for tourism promotion and increased spend on worldwide marketing of Victoria Falls. There is also a great deal of public private partnership under discussion.
According to Archer, current developments in Victoria Falls are keeping pace with the increased demands. “The number of hotel beds available in Victoria Falls has traditionally outweighed the number of airline seats, however, we are moving closer to a better balance,” he says.
Teede believes while the private sector is keeping pace, government infrastructure is lagging. “We have noticed struggle, with the increase of demand, in queues at our airport, partial congestion on the roads, and immigration is lacking human resource. However, we are still in the adaptation period,” he explains.
Investment in new tourism facilities as well as upgrades in existing properties and businesses abounds, says Kennedy. “Witness additional bedrooms at Ilala Lodge, major upgrades at Stanley & Livingstone and Victoria Falls Safari Club, the new Old Drift Lodge project, the River Brewery and more…market forces regarding demand vs supply are clearly at work in some measure.”
Based across the border on the Zambian side of the Falls, Tanya Stephens, GM of the Protea Hotel by Marriott Livingstone, says Zimbabwe’s change in leadership has yet to impact on business at her property. “Zimbabwe still has a long way to go to rebuild its economy and the competition remains the same between the two countries despite the change in leadership. The private sector in Zimbabwe, and particularly Victoria Falls, has always been the prime driver for marketing the destination. Despite all the turmoil since 2000 they have kept it going with their operators.”
With the hotel now under Marriott Hotels’ ownership, Stephens expects the US to generate most of the property’s tourist numbers this year. The hotel enjoys a high number of regional and Zambian clients, too.
Imran Changezi, newly appointed GM for Minor Zambia properties where the group operates the Royal Livingstone Victoria Falls Zambia Hotel by Anantara , is also upbeat for 2018. He says: “I believe there is immense potential as well as interest in Livingstone at national, regional and international levels. Both travellers and tour organisers realise the importance of Livingstone’s charming unspoiled surroundings, not yet overwhelmed commercially, and therefore, its popularity is bound to grow further.”
He continues: “Much like the rest of the hotels in surrounding national and regional destinations, we receive guests from a wide mix of geographical origins, ranging from our very own national inter-state travellers to Pan-African, Western European and Northern and Latin American countries. We expect to see the same trend in 2018 with growing interest from Australasian source markets.”
source: Tourism Update