Victoria Falls International Airport opened its doors at the end of 2016. In just two years, the completely revamped airport has seen a huge increase in visitors, with some airlines increasing their frequency to the destination or introducing bigger planes to meet growing demand.
According to Simon Teede, General Manager of Bushtracks Africa Zimbabwe, this has transformed Victoria Falls into a tourism hub, and has done wonders for the region in general. “To put things in perspective, with each airline that added Victoria Falls Airport as a destination, our transfers increased by 25%. So four airlines mean our numbers have doubled.”
But what do all these tourists need to know when travelling to the region? And how should operators in the region respond to the recent surge in visitors?
Tourism Update spoke to a few industry stakeholders to find out.
“We want tourists to know that Zimbabwe is a safe destination to visit; the country has excellent infrastructure and very high standards when it comes to accommodation and activities,” says Beck Edwards, a Director at Off 2 Africa. Operators advise that visitors to the region make sure that they work with a well-respected and trusted operator.
“Using an experienced agent or operator who knows the country, and ground handlers who have the logistics capability, makes a real difference to the planning process, and subsequent enjoyment,” notes Ross Kennedy, CEO of Africa Albida Tourism. As is the case with any vacation, visitors should research things like visas, medical and travel insurance, and the best clothing to suit the season. In line with this, Teede advises that tourists make sure they can use their credit/debit cards internationally, or bring cash with them. “We probably have one of the most advanced electronic banking systems in southern Africa because we’ve had such a shortage of cash. So even the guy selling something on the street will have a machine where you can swipe your card.”
Getting Destination Zimbabwe back on the map is all about assuring tourists that the country is open for business, notes Ron Goatley, Managing Director of Wilderness Safaris Zambezi.
Part of this means increasing capacity, adds Teede. Currently, demand outweighs supply when it comes to accommodation. We’ve seen a lot of people turning their homes into lodges and short-term rental spots because the industry has grown so much, so quickly. “We need to hurry up and build facilities to accommodate all the people coming in. If we get this right, I believe that it won’t be long before Zimbabwe overtakes surrounding nations like Zambia and Botswana as the place to visit.”
All members of the tourism industry need to be working closely together to offer seamless and life-changing journeys for all visitors to the country, continues Goatley. This means ensuring that local products are used wherever possible, local talent is employed and nurtured, the local culture celebrated, and that local communities can benefit from the rise in visitors to the country. “This will ultimately ensure the continued protection of the country’s amazing natural heritage and the ongoing biodiversity conservation of its pristine wilderness areas,” he concludes.