Travellers often assume that the high water season is the best time to visit the Victoria Falls and that three days is sufficient to enjoy all this destination has on offer. But local DMCs argue that this is selling the destination short. Tourism Update’s Tessa Reed looks at how the overseas trade can sell and upsell this destination.
As one of the Seven Natural Wonders, the Victoria Falls is on many travellers’ bucket-lists. Madeleine Hetem, MD of Tamrich Tours, suggests that the Falls can be sold as an add-on destination to any Southern African itinerary.
Sara Gardiner, family owner of Matetsi Victoria Falls, says because the destination has accommodation catering for every segment and a wide range of activities, packages can be tailored for all travellers. “Just within the Victoria Falls area, Africa travel specialists have the opportunity to create the ideal itinerary for their clients.”
She emphasises the need to take the time to understand what clients are looking for. For example, she says, the sight of the Victoria Falls lends itself to romantic getaways, while there is also an array of activities for the whole family, including wonderful bonding experiences like safaris within easy reach of the Falls.
“Within the Victoria Falls area, guests can have a variety of experiences: from vibrant craft markets to exclusive resorts, river activities to safari and historical and cultural experiences,” she adds.
It’s not all about high-water
The Falls are at their mightiest during March and April, offerings stunning views, but there are plenty reasons to sell the destination outside this period. “During March and April a huge volume of water cascades over the waterfall, and the giant plumes of mist that erupt below can impact visibility in the rainforest. While people sometimes assume that high water is the best time to see the waterfall, the sheer volume of mist creates an almost continual downpour, making photography tricky and obscuring some of the viewpoints,” says Wilma Griffith, sales and marketing at Wild Horizons.
“We believe Victoria Falls is an all-year-round destination, and when to visit will depend on guests’ personal preferences,” says Gardiner. She explains that because the water levels in the Zambezi River fluctuate, the water coming over the Falls and the spray from the Falls also fluctuate. “These seasonal variations influence not only the appearance of the Falls, but also activities like fishing and white-water rafting.”
The shoulder seasons from January-February and October-November both have selling points says Gardiner.
She explains that the former is the green season, when the rains have started and the water level in Zambezi River is rising. “The Falls itself is at mid-water and guests will experience a fair amount of spray but with good visibility during their walking tour. This is a great time of the year for white-water rafting, before the water gets too high and the rafting operations close for the season.”
October-November is the end of the dry season and temperatures can be very hot, says Sara. “The Falls is at low water at this time of the year, and this is the ideal time of year for guests who are keen to take a dip in the Devil’s Pool.”
“July through to September are optimal for viewing the Falls, without being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of water cascading over the edge and surging into the rainforest,” says Wilma. She adds that September is also considered to be the best game-viewing month. She explains that the vegetation is sparse and animals tend to congregate at the river. “This is also the month that flocks of migratory birds return to Victoria Falls, among these are the spectacular carmine bee-eaters arriving en-masse and nesting in the sand cliffs along the Zambezi River.”
Extend the stay
The Victoria Falls is usually sold as a two-night addition to Southern African itineraries, but with the countless experiences on offer, operators say two nights don’t do the destination justice.
Gardiner says that while the average length stay in the Victoria Falls area is about two nights, she is seeing the average length of stay at Victoria Falls increasing as the travel industry realises the potential of the area.
“We often find guests are disappointed that they are only visiting for two nights,” she adds.
Both Griffith and Hetem recommend at least a three-night stay.
“Victoria Falls is a melting pot of activity, and visitors often underestimate just how much there is to do in the quaint yet lively town,” says Griffith. “Even with a well-planned itinerary, art enthusiasts may find that they wish to spend more time visiting the local crafts markets, adrenaline seekers may want to add a bicycle tour or horse-riding safari to their adventure, and families may wish to spend more time together on the river or enjoying an elephant art safari. There is so much to explore, and it is better to have a day or two set aside for spontaneity.”
To encourage longer stays, Matsetsi Victoria Falls is offering guests with a four-night or longer stay a complimentary 'Flight of the Angels' experience. The offer is currently available through to January 2020.