Footsteps Through Time

Footsteps Through Time
A History of Travel and Tourism to the Victoria Falls - www.zambezibookcompany.com

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Albida Tourism in $12m expansion drive

AFRICA Albida Tourism (AAT) which owns the world famous Victoria Falls Safari Lodge is investing up to US$16 million in a robust expansion drive as the group positions itself to optimise benefits from the recovery of the country’s tourism industry.

AAT chief executive Ross Kennedy told NewZimbabwe.com at the firm’s Harare head office that the country’s tourism sector is fast recovering from the worst effects of a decade-long economic recession and adverse international publicity.

He said occupancy levels at his firm’s properties had averaged 46 percent during the “difficult years” but have since recovered remarkably, with the Victoria Falls Safari lodge now averaging about 82 percent.

“Even the United States and United Kingdom markets have bounced back with the US alone making up to 23 percent of my business in the first quarter of this year while 26 percent of our visitors came from the UK.

“Occupancies for the whole of the Victoria Falls region have spiked to 76 percent from lows of about 40 percent in the last decade,” Kennedy said.

AAT has also reopened the Bumi Hills Safari lodge in Kariba which had been closed over the last ten years and is investing up to US$16 million to expand local operations as well as venture into the region.

The investment will see the addition of 24 rooms at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge to increase capacity to 96 as well as the development of a new18-bed luxury lodge in neighbouring Bostwana.

However the main project is the US$12 million development of Santonga eco-tourism park in Victoria Falls which Kennedy described as a ‘major drawcard’ for the destination.

“Santonga will bring to the Vic Falls something that is missing at the moment, which is a genuine family oriented activity. It will absolutely please everyone from 2 year-olds to those who are a hundred years old.

“The project is a good example of what, in industry-speak, we call edutainment and encompasses wildlife, conservation and experiential activities,” Kennedy added.

Santonga is a multi-faceted eco-park that is designed to deepen visitors’ appreciation of local culture and the history of the Victoria Falls.

Key features of the project which will be located in a wildlife area include a replica of the Great Zimbabwe monuments, a reptile park, a 600-seater drumbeat amphitheatre as well as an African-themed restaurant which will seat up to 300 diners.


Kennedy said the Santonga is expected to help lengthen visitor stay in the Falls and thereby boost the country’s benefits from its prime resort.

“The average stay in the Falls is presently two-and-a-half nights. If we can get existing visitors to stay one more night - even without adding another pair of legs - that alone would boost business by up to 25 percent,” Kennedy said.

The new projects AAT is carrying out are expected to create another 140 jobs bringing the group’s overall employee numbers to 249.

“There will also be huge downstream benefits because of what will be consumed in the park, raw material supplies as well as general retail spend,” the AAT chief said.

The group also operates the Hide Lodge in Hwange National Park as well as the successful African-themed Boma restaurant located next to the Vic Falls Safari lodge.
Kennedy said there are plans to take the Boma concept to Livingstone town in Zambia and South Africa’s Cape Town.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Change to Visa Requirement Into Zimbabwe

Historically, any person holding a single entry visa who may have left Zimbabwe (E.G. a day-visit to nearby Chobe National Park or a day-visit to the Zambia side of the Victoria Falls) but intended retuning to Zimbabwe to overnight was not requested to reapply for an additional visa upon return.

However, with immediate effect, Zimbabwe will be charging for re-entry visas for anybody who has left the country on a day trip. This information received today (Monday October 18, 2009) seems to have been in place for a few days already.

Any passengers leaving Zimbabwe on a day trip MUST purchase a multiple entry visa for Zimbabwe on arrival at first entry.

The same rule applies in the opposite direction,  if you arrive into the Victoria Falls International Airport, you will need to purchase a visa to enter Zimbabwe merely to take an overland transfer to Botswana.

Source: Change to Visa Requirement Into Zimbabwe (19/10/09)

Monday, 28 September 2009

Zimbabwean Tour Guide plunges into the Victoria Falls gorge

Victoria Falls (ZimEye) – A professional tour guide is believed to have died after falling to the Victoria Falls rain-forest gorges.
Police confirmed the incident, which left Victoria Falls and Livingstone, Zambia residents dumbfounded.
Chief Inspector Chisoni, Police Officer in Charge of Victoria Falls police station in Livingstone, Zambia said the incident happened on Wednesday afternoon on the Zambian side of the rainforest.
He said the guide was trying to save a tourist who was about to fall into the gorges at a spot called The Devil’s Pool.
The name of the guide is still being withheld as his next of kin are still to be notified but according to sources, the guide was working for a South African based tour company called Sunway Safaris.
“He came here (Livingstone) driving a minibus with tourists from South Africa and were booked at the Water Front,” said the source.
“They then went to the devils pool, a death trap which is very close to the edge of the main falls which are 90 metres deep.”
He said on getting out of the pool, one of the tourists slipped and was about to fall into the gorges.
“The tour guide quickly grabbed his hand and successfully pulled him back into the pool but in the process lost balance and fell 90 metres down,” he said.
The source said every year someone dies at the devils pool.
“People should just be banned from going near the place because it is dangerous. On the Zimbabwean side, there are barriers put in place all over. That should be done here,” he said.
Help was called in and tour operators sent in helicopters.
The fire brigade, police and well wishers responded but they could not locate the guide.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Mukuni Chiefdom Plots Strategic Development Plan

However, the larger part of the chiefdom is still economically deprived, with many local people living in abject poverty. To address the challenges of development and poverty, His Royal Highness Munokalya Mukuni and other leaders of the Mukuni Chiefdom have come up with the Chiefdom’s Strategic Development Plan for 2013 to 2017.
The plan covers agriculture, tourism and natural resources, livestock, food security, infrastructure, education, health and HIV, empowerment of women and youth, culture and management among others.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Support to the HIV/AIDS Response in Zambia (ShARe II) project provided technical assistance to guide the strategic planning process. Accordingly, the strategic development plan is a forward-looking roadmap for the chiefdom’s future to guide the developmental aspirations of the people of Mukuni Chiefdom.
Chiefs and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkandu Luo launched the chiefdom’s strategic development plan on August 30, 2013 during the commemoration of this year’s Bene Mukuni traditional ceremony of the Toka-Leya people of Southern Province.
Several chiefs across Zambia as well as from Zimbabwe and Canada attended this year’s Bene Mukuni traditional ceremony. Prior to the launch of the plan, Senior Chief Mukuni performed several traditional rituals as part of celebrations. One of the rituals performed was the killing of a cow and its blood was used to wash the feet of the chief.
Speaking during the ceremony, Professor Luo said the launch of the strategic plan was historic not only to Mukuni Chiefdom but to other chiefdoms across Zambia. Prof Luo said chiefdoms were lagging behind in terms of development previously but there was hope currently because all chiefdoms would soon have developmental strategic plans to promote development in their localities.
“Chiefdoms were previously left behind for many years in terms of development and yet they have people who have been contributing to the development of Zambia. “The other 19 developmental strategic plans for chiefdoms will soon be concluded by the USAID Zambia,” Prof Luo said. She said the institution of chiefdoms had not been celebrated for many years and a lot of partners were scared to invest in chiefdoms.
Prof Luo said the USAID had however, taken a risk to invest in chiefdoms by investing US$1 million through SHARe II project in the campaign against child marriages. Furthermore, the USAID is also investing $380,000 to propagate peace and unity using female chiefs and wives of chiefs. Prof Luo said under the leadership of President Michael Sata, chiefs were currently being given a new role and prominence in the development agenda.
“Our ministry stands ready to support what has been identified in the Mukuni Strategic Development Plan. “We need to support development in our chiefdoms so that we bring wealth to the local people,” Prof Luo said. She said medicine from hospitals and clinics also came from trees and it was important that traditional leaders helped to preserve the forest.
Prof Luo urged Zambians to use Victoria Falls as a research site in addition to it being a tourist attraction. She further said the issue of child marriages should be fought by every citizen because it was the cause of Gender Based Violence (GBV) and HIV/AIDS among other challenges.
Speaking at the same function, First Lady Christine Kaseba urged traditional rulers in Zambia to emulate Senior Chief Munokalya Mukuni to invest in the documentation of their traditions. “I am reliably informed that the ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs has a programme for documentation of traditions.
“In this regard, therefore, I urge the ministry’s officers in the various districts to coordinate effectively with the traditional authorities for the production of the best written records of our history,” Dr Kaseba said.
Dr Kaseba also urged chiefs in Zambia to put to a stop practices that harm women and practices that could retarded development in the country.
She said traditional rulers should avoid practices that put women at risk of harm, saying the country’s culture should not permit men to batter their partners to death. “I wish to call upon our Royal Highnesses in Zambia and beyond to put to a stop practices that harm our women. Our culture does not condone rape and defilement but it upholds the dignity of women in society,” Dr Kaseba said.
She said there was need to encourage women to be health conscious and be screened for breast and cervical cancer as well as other feminine related diseases. Dr Kaseba said the future of societies depended on women and as such society must make it a priority to safeguard women’s existence.
She also urged Senior Chief Mukuni to ensure that his female co-ruler, Bedyango, was honoured and recognised for the motherly and administrative role played by her fore-mothers many years go. Dr Kaseba also said President Sata still stood by his campaign promises of having a better future for Zambians and empowered citizens through the Patriotic Front (PF) manifesto.
Dr Kaseba said President Sata sent her to assure the people of Mukuni Chiefdom and the rest of Zambia that he was still standing by his campaign promises of improving the lives of Zambians. “I am very conscious to the fact that the PF Government won the right to rule Zambia on the promise of a better future and an empowered citizenly through its manifesto.
“The President has sent me to assure you that he stands by his promises. He is counting on your support and involvement in development plans,” Dr Kaseba-Sata said. She also reiterated President Sata’s commitment to developing Livingstone after the 20th session of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly.
“When President Sata came here in Livingstone for the official opening of the UNWTO General Assembly, he assured the nation that more would be done to develop Livingstone even after the UNWTO conference.” “I want to assure you that I will behave like a mosquito in the night, when President Sata is sleeping, to make noise and remind him of good things he promised the people of Livingstone,” she said.
USAID Zambia mission director Susan Brems said the chiefdom’s developmental strategic plan was an excellent example of how chiefdoms could exercise leadership on HIV/AIDS issues through a people driven democratic process.
Dr Brems said the plan was very comprehensive and yet it aptly identified the comparative advantages and the needs of the chiefdom. “I congratulate the people of Munokalya Mukuni Chiefdom for taking your development into your own hands and becoming captains of your own fate by designing your own developmental plan. “Zambia proudly boasts of 287 chiefdoms throughout its territory and the SHARe II project is working with 35 of them to develop these developmental strategic plans,” Dr Brems said.
Mukuni Development Trust chairperson Mupotola Siloka said his chiefdom had always strove to continuously seek to supplement Government efforts in reducing poverty levels of its people. Indeed the future for the people of Mukuni Chiefdom has been brightened following the launch of the strategic plan.
Once implemented appropriately, the plan will go a long way in uplifting the lives of local people in the chiefdom.


Monday, 31 August 2009

Curio carvers, vendors get accreditation

THE Forestry Commission has started accrediting curio carvers and vendors in Victoria Falls, a move aimed at controlling the harvesting of timber in the forestry area.

The curio industry, which employs more than 1 500 people in the area has not been controlled leading to rampant poaching of timber, resulting in deforestation.

Speaking in an interview yesterday, the Forestry Commission co-ordinator for Hwange, Mr David Mandongwe, said they wanted timber harvesting to be done in a controllable manner to ensure sustainability of the forests. He said so far 10 co-operatives at Busy Island, a popular vending area where tourists buy curios in town and at curio stands along the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls Highway have been accredited.

 “The Commission has started accrediting curio vendors and carvers in and around the resort town of Victoria Falls. So far 10 co-operatives with about 250 members each have been accredited in line with the new requirements of the Commission,” he said.

Mr Mandongwe said the Commission had already done a stock take to ascertain the number of curio pieces that were in the vendors’ and carvers’ stocks. He said they have also ordered the carvers to stop timber logging until the curio stocks are cleared.

“We have since stopped timber logging. The logging will only commence after the stocks have been finished,” he said.

Mr Mandongwe said the Commission had identified legal sources of timber logging with the hope of controlling the activity. “The natural resources were depleting at an alarming rate because of rampant poaching of timber for curios. So we want to control the Forestry logging so that we leave something for the future generations. We also want to reduce deforestation,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Mandongwe said it was now illegal for anyone to export curios without a permit. “Anyone wanting to buy curios should first get a permit from the Commission,” he said.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Noise pollution impact fears for Vic Falls elephants

Noise pollution from helicopter flights over Victoria Falls could badly affect important elephant herds in Zimbabwe, environmentalists have warned.

They say senior government ministers are backing plans for a four-fold increase in tourist flights.

It is part of attempts to take advantage of an expected tourist boom when neighbouring South Africa hosts next year's football World Cup.

Work has already begun on new helipads but without official permission.

Zimbabwean Environment Minister Francis Nehema says no environmental impact assessment has been made - and without it the scheme cannot go ahead.

"It doesn't matter who you are. We want it done. It is a prerequisite," he said.

Zimbabwean journalist Brian Hungwe says at present just five helicopters fly over the falls at any one time.

That figure is set to grow to around 20, as tourists scramble to secure stunning aerial views of one of the world's most spectacular sights, he says.

But environmentalists fear excessive noise pollution will have an adverse effect on the behaviour patterns of the elephants.

And Deliwe Utete from non-governmental organisation Environment Africa says if the elephants flee it could have worrying repercussions for the resort's entire ecosystem, affecting thousands of wild animals and birds.

Source: Noise fear for Zimbabwe elephants (19/06/09)

Friday, 19 June 2009

Vic Falls Heritage Status Threatened

Victoria Falls World Heritage status is under threat after two hoteliers at the prime resort town petitioned the World Heritage Commission against noise pollution in the town.
The hoteliers, The Victoria Falls Hotel and the Kingdom, separately wrote to the World Heritage Commission saying noise generated by frequent flights over the Falls and through gorges and the number of licences given to helicopter operators were a cause for concern.
They warned that if left unchecked they 'pose the single biggest threat to our status'.
According to letters seen by the Zimbabwe Independent this week, the hotel groups say the flights over the hotel were depriving their guests "of a quiet and relaxing environment."
"On behalf of the Victoria Falls Hotel, I would like to register a complaint against the helicopters and the noise they produce which has a negative impact on the environment and likewise destroys the atmosphere in our hotel and grounds," reads the letter.
"Daily we have to endure the noise and constant irritation from these aircraft which fly directly over and above the Victoria Falls Hotel," the report said.
Said the letter: "If one considers that current hotel occupancies are running at approximately 20% of capacity surely when normal higher occupancies return the environment cannot sustain the impact of the increased flights, increased operators and increased frequency of the helicopters."
At present there are two operators flying: Zambian United Air Charters with two helicopters, Batoka Skies (three helicopters) and Zambezi Helicopters with two helicopters.
The Independent understands that plans are at an advanced stage to license up to eight more operators.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Letting off steam on the Royal Livingstone Express

The Victoria Falls, a vintage train and fine game viewing – the Royal Livingstone Express has it all, says Kieron Humphrey. Spare a thought for the fireman of the Royal Livingstone Express: the sun is a meltingly hot 35C and he's shovelling coal into a furnace. Meanwhile, the engine driver is keeping an eye out for hazards on the line, particularly elephants. They usually amble out of the way, I'm told, but every now and again a big bull decides to challenge this strange hooting newcomer.

For the passengers, riding the Royal is an unashamed exercise in luxury travel – the perfect end to a day admiring the majestic Victoria Falls. The five-hour excursion is all about attentive service and fine dining, with the chance to view game as a bonus. And vintage rail enthusiasts will find plenty to admire about the train itself – a symphony of steam, steel, polished paintwork, gleaming teak and luxurious leather.

While the experience may feel timeless, the steam safari is quite a recent addition to Livingstone's list of attractions. "I saw an advertisement one day, inviting bids to run a tourist train," says Chris Tett, the man behind the train. "When I was little I used to terrify my mother by telling her I wanted to be a train driver. Suddenly I saw my chance." That was in 2004, when Tett was looking to expand the travel company he had set up in Zambia after six years in the Irish Guards and an unsuccessful experiment with prawn farming in Mozambique.

Tett won the tender and spent three years scouting for rolling stock in marshalling yards all over southern Africa. "Then I got a call from Rohan Vos, of Rovos Rail. 'I've found your train set,' he said."

The "train set" consisted of five carriages in varying states of decay: an observation car, with an open-air deck, elegant lounge car and "Wembley" dining car (named for the 1924 British Empire Exhibition where it was exhibited), a Chesterfield dining car and a club car, which houses the kitchen. Each was given a complete overhaul, blending original fittings and features with modern comforts such as air conditioning units, a humidor and a wine cellar.

The sweaty, sooty interior of the cab, on the other hand, is exactly as it was when the engine first plied this stretch of line, 86 years ago. Built by the North British Locomotive Company in 1922-4, the 10th Class "Princess of Mulobezi" originally hauled timber for Zambezi Sawmills. It was saved from the scrapyard in the Seventies by David Shepherd, the wildlife artist and conservationist, and operated on the Zimbabwean side of the Falls for many years. As the Mugabe regime took its toll on the country's fortunes, so the Princess began to show signs of neglect. She was brought back to Zambia and given the kiss of life by Ben Costa, a veteran railway engineer whose eyes sparkle as he tells how replacement parts had to be scratch-built from the specification sheets.

Even if you're normally left cold by steam, you may well be impressed by a trip on the Express. With vapour from the Victoria Falls hanging above the trees in the distance, the train pays tribute with its own puff of smoke and heads west out of Livingstone, through the teeming suburb of Dambwe. Children cluster at the trackside to wave and tiny fragments of town life can be seen through the window: a stallholder displaying dried fish; a man teetering along on an overburdened bicycle; a young man in sunglasses berating a passing driver for splashing mud onto his trousers.

Soon the corrugated iron roofs of Dambwe are left behind. The train pauses while the guard opens the gate to the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, and now it is no longer children staring as we pass, but impala and an unperturbed giraffe. The park has been restocked with white rhino recently and is also home to buffalo, zebra, monkeys and several species of antelope. Opportunities for sighting game vary with the time of year, but if wildlife is seen the train usually makes a halt for photographs.

Ten miles along the track there is a longer halt for dinner. Five courses, with a seemingly never-ending flow of South African wines, come courtesy of the chef and staff at the Royal Livingstone Hotel, flagship of Sun International's Zambian stable. It's hard to fault the food, and there are rumours that the renowned chef Conrad Gallagher has been brought in to improve the menu still further.
But for me, the most magical element of the meal was watching twilight shroud the mopane trees, and hearing bush birds call their goodnights. If Cecil Rhodes's grand vision for a Cape Town-to-Cairo railway had ever been fulfilled, perhaps it would have been like this.

Source: Letting off steam on the Royal Livingstone Express (22/03/09)










Friday, 30 January 2009

Zimbabwe's widespread troubles push visitors - and their money - to neighbouring Zambia.

VICTORIA FALLS, Zimbabwe -- This hamlet is swathed in lush emerald jungle, a serene place that is 500 miles from political turmoil in the nation's capital but seems a galaxy apart.
And then there is the attraction for which the town is named, one of the world's Seven Wonders: the mighty Victoria Falls, a mile-long, 350-foot-high cascade best seen from here in Zimbabwe, residents insist -- not from across the chasm in Zambia.
All of which mattered not a whit to Manhattan resident Michael Marsh on a recent morning. He stood on the Zambian side, his baseball cap damp with waterfall spray, and offered a list of reasons why he passed on the view from Zimbabwe.
"I didn't even consider going across the border," said Marsh, 70, a retired dentist who was staying with his wife, Andrea, 67, in a tony lodge outside the Zambian falls town of Livingstone. "Starvation, cholera, desperation, an irrational dictator. I'd love to be able to support the people, but I can't support the government."
And so it was that once-thriving Victoria Falls lost two more tourists to its once-desolate northern neighbor, a continuation of a trend that illustrates the reverberations of Zimbabwe's boom-to-bust economy and chaotic politics under President Robert Mugabe's 28-year reign and, many in Victoria Falls say, the power of bad press.
Ten years ago, Victoria Falls hotels were often full amid a tourism gold rush, and guidebooks were advising those in search of a less theme-park feel to head across the Zambezi River into Zambia. Livingstone -- named for British explorer David Livingstone, the first European to see the falls -- was an undeveloped nook in a country that had abandoned communism a decade before.
Then Mugabe began seizing white-owned farms, triggering the collapse of Zimbabwe's agricultural economy and widespread international condemnation. The years since have been marked by disputed elections marred by violence and repression, inflation that has skyrocketed past 231 million percent and shortages of food and currency.
Now Zimbabwe, a former tourism mecca, is the subject of many Western nations' travel warnings. Tourism revenue dropped from $777 million in 1999 to $26 million in 2008, according to figures from Zimbabwe's Reserve Bank, which are considered the most reliable. The World Economic Forum, relying on sunnier data from the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, predicts the industry will contract more than 1 percent annually for the next decade.
"The tourism sector has suffered because of the bad publicity we have received from our enemies," said Karikoga Kaseke, chief executive of the tourism authority, referring to the Western nations that Mugabe's government blames for its problems.
Whatever the reason, Zambia saw an opening and began marketing its side of the falls, sometimes as "Victoria Falls Livingstone." Big hotel chains arrived, and risk-averse corporations moved conferences there. National tourism revenue doubled to $176 million from 1999 to 2006, according to government statistics. The Livingstone Tourism Association says the number of hotel rooms in the town has swelled from 700 to about 1,900 in the past eight years.
"Initially, it was a negative for us," Tanya Stephens, a longtime Livingstone resident who manages the new Livingstone branch of the South African Protea Hotel chain, said of Zimbabwe's slide. "Then Zambia started to go out and say, 'You can still see Victoria Falls. You can come to Zambia, the safe side of the falls.' "
January is in the off-season, and the global recession has slowed tourist traffic, but even now Livingstone feels like a town in the midst of a an oil boom. Footpaths along the waterfall were humming on a recent weekend, and recently opened and in-progress guesthouses marked the landscape.
Across the river in the center of Victoria Falls was a shuttered bar and a lonely square. Tourists must bring cash -- preferably U.S. dollars or South African rand -- to pay for warm sodas at the partially lighted grocery store, because ATMs no longer dispense Zimbabwe's worthless currency.