Footsteps Through Time

Footsteps Through Time
A History of Travel and Tourism to the Victoria Falls -

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Tourism levy haunting sector

The tourism industry says government should scrap the 15% value-added tax (VAT) on tourism as it has made the Zimbabwean product more expensive.
Zivisai Chagaka recently in Victoria Falls
The cash-strapped government in January last year unilaterally introduced the levy on foreign tourist accommodation in a move seen as a desperate measure to augment the
government’s dwindling revenues. This was despite appeals and protests from stakeholders in the tourism sector who viewed the tax as tantamount to choking them out of business.
Tourist accommodation and related services have been exempted from VAT since its introduction in 2003 to spur growth in the sector.
In a wide-ranging interview, African Travel and Tourism Association chairperson Ross Kennedy told businessdigest that the tax on tourism was “totally unnecessary”. He said this during the relaunch of The Boma — Dinner & Drum Show earlier this week in Victoria Falls.
“Though the 15% tax added last year has been difficult to quantify, it has made our tourism product more expensive. Some of our colleagues reported cancellations after the tax was introduced,” Kennedy said.
Players in the tourism sector are therefore concerned that the few gains that have been achieved by the industry could be reversed. And Kennedy said the tax could have affected 5% of business in general.
“We are still in talks with our minister to have it overturned,” he said. Nonetheless, Kennedy said, the Zimbabwean product remained cheaper than in neighbouring countries although the pricing is driven by supply and demand.
Last year, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa told parliament that Treasury had collected US$1,6 million in the first four months of its introduction.
Tourism and Hospitality minister Walter Mzembi is one of those who have spoken out strongly against the levy.
In August, he was quoted as having said that the introduction of the tax would neither grow the tourism cake nor guarantee that government will get the desired increase in revenue.
“The sector and myself still believe that it’s early days to impose such a full-blown tax on foreign arrivals that we are still trying to recover,” Mzembi is also quoted as saying.
He said “intelligent taxation would seek to promote the recovery of the sector through an incremental formula that does not kill the goose that lays the golden egg or punish people for visiting”.
“I often hear arguments about Zambia or that other countries are doing it. Why not us, but really, we are coming from different backgrounds given our history of a country under sanctions, at least in the travel market, until 2009,” Mzembi added. “So we need taxation creativity in other areas that do not constitute a barrier to entry and growth of the sector.”
Research conducted by the Zimbabwe Council for Tourism revealed that the country would experience a 75% drop in the number of foreign tourists and lose up to US$124 million per year if the levy is not reviewed downwards.
Available statistics show tourist arrivals to Zimbabwe increased by 9% to 2 056 588 in 2015, compared to 1 880 028 in 2014 with all markets performing positively except for Asia and the Middle East which declined. The growth in arrivals into Zimbabwe was generally backed by growth in the country’s traditional overseas source markets such as the United Kingdom and the United States and compounded by the positive performance of mainland Africa.
The tourism sector achieved 7% growth in receipts from US$827 million in 2014 to US$886 million in 2015 with more of the receipts being driven by the accommodation and restaurant sub-sectors. Tourism receipts have been on a growth path since 2009. The sector could achieve more if the country was not using a much stronger currency, the US dollar, which has made the destination more expensive compared to those in the region.
The average room occupancy level for Harare fell to 57% in 2015 from 59% in 2014. In Bulawayo, the average room occupancy level also fell from 44% in 2014 to 37% in 2015. However for Victoria Falls, room occupancy rose from 49% to 52%, during the period under review.
The national average hotel room occupancy level fell from 48% to 47% while the bed occupancy level also fell by five percentage points from 36% in 2014 to 31% in 2015. Except for Victoria Falls which enjoyed a client mix of 73% foreign to 27% local, utilisation by the domestic business clientele dominated the accommodation sector with 78% of the hotel clientele being locals. Domestic leisure is mostly active during public holidays.
However, Kennedy said 2016 has been “stable” for established destinations in Africa, including Zimbabwe itself as compared to previous years. It was a mixed bag for those in the Victoria Falls, he said, as some realised healthy returns while others struggled. Most of those businesses that rely heavily on domestic tourism are the ones that were hardest hit as a result of a severe liquidity crunch and numerous police roadblocks.
As a result, the domestic market suffered a 50% knock in the second half of December 2016 as the cash crisis deepened. Kennedy said this is the month that usually sees a spike in local arrivals as the festive season begins.
“The state of the economy in general where some corporates are downsizing and effecting other cost-cutting measures such as salary cuts affect travel and leisure as fewer and fewer people have disposable incomes,” he said.
Kennedy said the tourism industry is “poised for growth nonetheless as there were new projects in the pipeline, including multinational fast-food outlets and lodges, looking at the Victoria Falls as a destination that is growing. In Hwange, it was a fairly good year.”
The rains, though they came late, have provided a welcome relief for tourism operators, particularly those in the prime resort of Victoria Falls — “we need water”.
“The Zambezi is now flowing above average and that’s wonderful for tourism … the weather doesn’t impact very much on tourism in Vic Falls,” Kennedy said.
“There is a general good feeling on what the tourism industry is expecting in 2017 and on the balance sheets. The expectation is 7-15% more bookings in 2017. We now have the added advantage of a new and enhanced airport which can handle even the biggest aircraft.
“We are complementing government by talking to airlines to see what can be done to promote and market the new airport. There are big names that have expressed interest in coming here — so we need to promote it so we can realise some benefits out of it as an industry.”
The new Victoria Falls International Airport terminal was commissioned on November 18 last year. This state-of-the-art airport, with a 4km long runway, is capable of accommodating the big, wide bodied aircraft, including the A380. It is expected to handle 1,5 million passengers a year from the current 176 000. The new airport terminal is currently handling five airlines. Arrivals into Victoria Falls by long-haul carriers are, however, expected to increase. Victoria Falls is poised to become a regional hub given its geographical location in relation to other tourism destinations in the region.
Kennedy, who is also CE of the Africa Albida Tourism Group, however said the cash shortages, though problematic to all employees and businesses, “this has had no direct impact on us” as they encourage their guests to use credit cards. He said they also work with travel agents to advise tourists to bring small denominations for small transactions and use credit cards instead for major transactions.
Kennedy welcomed the recent relaunch of a univisa between Zimbabwe and Zambia as “a genuinely user-friendly tourism tool”.
The univisa known as Kaza (Kavango-Zambezi) Transfrontier Conservation Area Visa, means tourists only need to obtain one visa to visit Zimbabwe and Zambia and was relaunched by Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo and his Zambian counterpart Stephen Kampyongo on December 21.
The facility had been suspended for a year from December 2015. The two countries had been chosen to pilot the facility following the hosting of the UN World Tourism 20th General Assembly in the resort town of Victoria Falls and Livingstone in 2013, but was suspended because the two countries had run out of stickers and also because the memorandum establishing a univisa between the two countries had expired.
Kennedy said the new visa regime is an early step in exploring and developing Kaza as a tourism zone with Victoria Falls as its hub. He said he hoped other countries in the region will also join in.
Kennedy also praised Mzembi for steering the tourism industry towards growth.
“We have a positive and ambitious Tourism minister (in Mzembi) who wants to get things done. He has worked hard to improve and grow the sector and we must acknowledge that fact,” Kennedy said, adding that the growth of the tourism sector naturally leads to the growth of the economy even from a provincial level to the national economy, hence its growth should be encouraged.
Mzembi is currently vying for the position of secretary-general of United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). He is currently the UNWTO Regional Commission for Africa chairperson.
AAT is a Zimbabwean hospitality group with a portfolio of hotels and restaurants in Victoria Falls and in Chobe, Botswana, including the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Lokuthula Lodges, Ngoma Safari Lodge and The Boma — Dinner & Drum Show.
Source: Tourism levy haunting sector (27/01/17)

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Zim Southern Africa's Most Expensive Tourist Destination

Isdore Guvamombe — Zimbabwe is by far the most expensive tourist destination compared to other destinations in the Sadc region and beyond. But for the benefit of all and sundry, let me restrict this instalment to the Sadc region.
The effect of the high price regime has been that the country, despite being among the most attractive in the region, risks out-bidding itself through a prize regime that is deterrent to tourists.
In a global village as necessitated and dictated by the technology, tourists have many options to visit and such high prices certainly have a knock effect on Zimbabwe, as a priority.
Imagine the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority levy added to ZBC Radio and TV licence, then Zimbabwe Music Rights Association (Zimura), then Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra), the local authority, then Zinwa and then . . . and then . . . and then . . . They add up to 23. Where do you do business like this, without passing the cost on to the consumer?

There are too many taxes and as if that is not enough, the Government's introduction of 15 percent VAT on accommodation for foreign tourists last year further worsened things.
Victoria Falls, is a case in point on this one. Over the years, Zimbabwe has been losing tourists to Zambia, firstly, because our political climate was portrayed as unfavourable in the international community, secondly, because the Victoria Falls International Airport could not accommodate wide-bodied planes. Now we have sorted out our international image doing extremely well in perception management, and, we have expanded the Victoria Falls International Airport. That has made us begin to out-compete Zambia.
Before the Victoria Falls Airport tarmac even dries up, here we are, shooting ourselves in the foot by introducing a 15 percent VAT on accommodation for foreign tourists. But these are foreign tourists who have an option to stay in Livingston, Zambia or Chobe, Botswan
Yes, the Zimbabwean side of the Victoria Falls gives the most spectacular view, the front side, compared to the unimpressive backside of the falls in Livingstone, but the effect has been that tourists stay in Zambia and visit Zimbabwe during the day. We don't need an economics graduate to tell us that the tourists are spending more money in Zambia through accommodation and a multifarious array of nocturnal activities, such as drinking binges, clubbing and braaing, while our hotel occupancy shrinks.
Suffice to say that the $20 they pay to see grandeur of the falls is nothing compared to what they spent in one night in Zambia. Most of the money is spent on accommodation and partying. That is where the money is. We are fast reducing Victoria Falls to a day town. We are killing the night life. We are shunning the money.
Again, we don't need an economist to tell us that we are already an expensive destination and adding another 15 percent is retrogressive.
Room prices in Zimbabwe are almost treble other countries and when you look at the standards, they might not correspond with the price regime.
Source: Zim Most Expensive Tourist Destination (20/01/17)

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Zambian operator to phase out elephant-back safaris

Safari Par Excellence and Zambezi Elephant Trails have decided to phase out elephant-back safaris. It is anticipated that by the end of December 2017, Zambezi Elephant Trails will no longer offer the safaris.

Safari Par Excellence will aim to end elephant rides by December 2017.

“Our approach to animal welfare as well as the decline in support of elephant-back safaris has confirmed that we are on the right track,” said Graham Nel, Managing Director, Safari Par Excellence.

Starting this month, the number of rides on offer will be reduced, with the focus being on the morning rides. Mid-morning and afternoon rides will only be conducted by special arrangement.

“We shall actively encourage clients to interact with the elephants rather than ride them,” said Nel. Elephant rides will be replaced by a boat ride up the Zambezi River, or road transfer, followed by an introduction to the animals with a short interaction and a meal at The Elephant CafĂ©.

Incentive groups are also encouraged to spend time to learn about and from the habits and characteristics of the elephants. 

Nel said the elephants’ well-being had always been at the forefront of operations within the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia.

Source: Another operator to phase out elephant rides (16/01/17)

Further Reading:  Captive Animal encounters: are they ethical? 

More from this blog: elephant-back safaris 

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Rich pickings for Vic-Falls businesses at carnival

Leonard Ncube in Victoria Falls

TOUR operators in Victoria Falls recorded brisk business during the recent annual Jameson Vic Falls Carnival.

The three-day event started on Thursday last week and ended New Year’s Eve with scores booking for activities during the period.

Different activities were fully booked for the three days and those who did not make prior arrangements failed to book.

Despite a generally subdued festive season owing to the weakening South African rand and lack of disposable income among locals, fortunes changed on Wednesday last week as thousands of travellers started arriving for the carnival.

Streets were fully packed with people and traffic while scores visited the Rainforest, Victoria Falls Bridge and other resort points dotted around.

Employers’ Association of Tourism and Safari Operators president Mr Clement Mukwasi said the biggest winner was the food industry as restaurants and eateries were all fully subscribed.

“The main area of benefit was the food area where all restaurants were filled to the brim,” said Mr Mukwasi.

He said besides the food industry, boat cruises were also 100 percent booked for the period.

“The second activity to reap high were cruises as almost every company was fully booked. Most had double trips which were all 100 percent full for the three days, which means that those who hadn’t made prior bookings couldn’t do any,” he added.

Mr Mukwasi said the carnival brought significant benefits for the tourism industry, adding that “these were very good three days of the year as capacities reached maximum.”

He said helicopter flights, which were also fully booked were affected by the weather as it was raining.

Scores others visited the Rainforest, Victoria Falls Bridge, The Snake Pit and Crocodile Farm among other activities.

Although she could not give figures, The Snake Pit manager Mrs Rina Greenland said they recorded a significant number of visitors.

“We usually have people coming to see and today people from the carnival have been coming since morning,” she said on Saturday.

Ms Sizile Nkosi from South Africa said: “I am usually scared of snakes but when I heard there is a snake pit I just thought I should pop in with my friends. It’s amazing.”

Newly introduced Zambezi Tram was also a hit as visitors booked for a tour of the Victoria Falls Bridge and Rainforest by rail.

However, Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) Victoria Falls chapter chairman Mr Chris Svovah said the occupancy rate had declined compared to 2015.

He attributed the decline to the fact that some locals have turned their houses into mini-lodges hence they take a significant number of people who could be booked in mainstream hotels and lodges.
Mr Svovah said the carnival had brought significant business as he commended the organisers for the annual event.

“From our assessment the occupancy rate has gone down in Victoria Falls despite a high number of people that attended the carnival. We would want to thank the carnival organisers for the event, which we know was a success and we believe will grow bigger going forward as it has put Victoria Falls on the world map,” he said.

HAZ reported a nationwide 80 percent hotel occupancy rate during the festive season, with Victoria Falls standing at 85 percent.

Source: Rich pickings for Vic-Falls businesses at carnival (06/01/17)

More: Vic Falls Carnival: When nature’s splendour meets hard partying (07/01/17)

Airport upgrade a boon for Vic Falls

THE upgrading of the $150 million Victoria Falls International Airport has stimulated a huge appetite for investment from local and international private sector players who want to set up businesses in the resort town, industry officials have revealed.
The new-look airport which is a gateway to the mighty Victoria Falls — one of the Seven Wonders of the World — was officially commissioned by President Robert Mugabe last year in November.
Following the upgrading of the entity, the resort town of Victoria Falls has experienced positive growth in terms of infrastructural development as well as attracting a huge appetite for investment from local and international players.
Industry players and municipal authorities told Standardbusiness good things had started showing up in the town.
“In the food industry, we have KFC which has become a popular restaurant in town. We also have Three-Monkeys Restaurant catering for both local and international tourists,” said an industry official, Clement Mukwasi, who is also Employers’ Association of Tourism and Safari Operators president.
“We have a number of snake parks that have been opened. We had not been having this kind of business in Victoria Falls.”
Mukwasi said companies such as Shearwater Adventures had invested thousands of dollars in accommodation facilities to meet the overwhelming demand.
The group constructed a facility christened Explorer’s Village which has the capacity to accommodate 120 people. The facility has 16 chalets as well as a 200 seater restaurant.
Lodges such as Ilala and Batonga also expanded their capacity, Mukwasi said.
“The [tourist] destination is growing and we have received quite a number of enquiries from people wishing to invest in the resort town. Currently, there are two companies, one from here and the other from South Africa, wishing to establish helicopter businesses in Victoria Falls,” he said.
“These are some of the developments that occurred during the course of the year following the commissioning of the Victoria Falls International Airport.”
Mukwasi also said the United Nations World Tourism Organisation was sponsoring the development of a public swimming pool.
“Construction has started and we believe by end of January it will be completed. The structure [Victoria Falls Airport]added value to the city in terms of infrastructural development and employment creation. It has also increased attractiveness of Victoria Falls as a tourist destination,” he said.
Victoria Falls mayor Sifiso Mpofu said the airport was a game-changer and they had received quite a number of enquiries from people wishing to establish businesses in the resort town.
“The airport is a game-changer, though we haven’t seen much development. We have received many enquiries about investment opportunities from companies and business people,” Mpofu said. 
The completion of the project was a major milestone for the country given the resort town’s potential to transform and steer growth in the country’s economy by attracting more tourists and investors into the country.
The airport is capable of handling around 1,5 million passengers annually and its smooth new runway can accommodate some of the world’s largest jets — raising the prospect of new direct international flights to Victoria Falls.
Africa’s largest airline group, Ethiopian Airlines recently revealed that it would start flying into Victoria Falls in March. Rwandan airline, RwandAir has also indicated plans to start flying into Victoria Falls this year.
The state-of-the-art Victoria Falls airport’s features include the new international terminal building, a new four-kilometre long runway, a new control tower and a refurbished domestic terminal with a capacity to handle 1,5 million passengers per annum.
The apron area has a capacity to handle aircraft in the class of the B747 and equivalent. The airport has modern passenger facilities which include a compatible baggage handling system, Flight Information Display System and Common Use Passenger Processing System.
The expansion of the airport comes as government has designated Victoria Falls a special economic zone for tourism, which means that investors will get incentives to put their money in the resort town. It also comes at a time when Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Walter Mzembi has plans for a $300 million “Disneyland” in Zimbabwe.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Zambia fails again to attract the 1 million tourist target

Zambia again failed to meet its annual target of attracting 1 million tourist arrivals in 2015. This is according to figures contained in the 2015 Tourism Statistical Digest released by the United Nations World Tourism Organisations (UNWTO).

Zambia recorded a total of 931,782 international tourist arrivals in 2015 compared to 946,969 tourists in 2014 resulting in a decline of 1.6 percent.

Out of the 53.3 million international tourists’ arrivals to Africa, Zambia received only 1.7 percent of the total tourists’ arrivals in Africa.

Business tourists dominated the arrivals contributing 54 percent while holiday and leisure travelers were second at 25 percent. There was a marked reduction decline for leisure and holiday tourism from 249,501 in 2014 to 235,235 in 2015 representing a decrease of 5.7 percent.

Business tourist arrivals also reduced from 506,054 tourists in 2014 to 499,584 in 2015 which translated to 1.3 percent decline. However, there was an increase in conference arrivals from 21,013 in 2014 to 22,902 in 2015 representing an increase of 9 percent. The total number of tourist visits to the five national parks inclusive of Lusaka Park was 101, 972.

South Luangwa National Park had the highest number of tourists at 43, 653 while Lower Zambezi National Park recorded the least tourists at 9,011.

The Victoria Falls, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and Zambia’s flagship tourism product, recorded 141,929 tourists compared to 152,798 tourists in 2014, representing a drop of 7.7 percent.

During the year under review, the total number of rooms available was 43,119 as compared to 42,932 in 2014, representing an increase of 0.4 percent.

The 2015 national annual average room occupancy rate increased from 61.9 percent in 2014 to 69.8 percent in 2015 while the national annual average bed occupancy rate during the year under review was 71.4 percent compared 72.2 percent in 2014.

The increase in room occupancy rate could be attributed to increase in domestic tourism activities and Meeting Incentives Conferencing and Exhibitions (MICE).

The average length of stay reduced to four days in 2015 as compared to five and half days in 2014. The number of people employed in the hospitality industry during the year under review was 57,384 compared 57,003 in 2014 recording an increase of 0.7 percent.

Southern Province recorded a high number of employees accounting for 22,872 employees in the hospitality industry while Northern Province had the least record of employees at 836.

The annual tourism earnings increased from K3, 945,710,713.08 in 2014 to K4, 408, 160,075.42 in 2015 representing an increase of 11.38 percent.

However, the annual tourism earning, when converted to the United States Dollars dropped by 34.9% from US$616 million in 2014 to US$ 401 million in 2015.

Source: Zambia fails again to attract the 1 million tourist target (03/01/17)