Victoria Falls has a new, gleaming multi-million dollar masterpiece that is fit for a place of its high standing in the world.
The town is easily Zimbabwe’s best tourist destination and probably at the same level in Southern Africa. A tourist who visits Southern Africa and doesn’t spend a few nights at Victoria Falls has not been to the region. The falls on the Zambezi River are known globally and have a place among the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
The town has some of the most exotic hotels and lodges and offers great activities, key among them bungee jumping and white water rafting. It has some of the world’s top-end conferencing and golfing facilities.
Despite these attributes, there is a possibility that foreign tourists landing at the town by air before the new investment did not have a good first impression of the quality of facilities available. Before President Mugabe commissioned the refurbished Victoria Falls International Airport on Friday, we had a largely average landing and take-off facility, a little below the destination’s lofty reputation.
“This development (commissioning of the airport) indeed signifies exciting times ahead for our aviation and tourism sectors,” said the President while officially opening the $150 million edifice.
“The upgrading of the airport paves way for Victoria Falls Town to become a tourist hub for Zimbabwe, Sadc and the rest of the continent. After the completion of this project, visitors and tourists from Europe, Asia, the Middle East among many others, can fly directly into Victoria Falls. They now can experience one of the Seven Wonders of the World. There are well advanced plans for several airlines to fly directly to Victoria Falls.”
The project involved the construction of a four kilometre runway, which was followed by an international terminal building, fire station, control tower and installation of the state-of-the-art specialist aviation equipment and the upgrading of the old airport into a domestic terminal building.
After the facelift, the airport now has the capacity to handle 1 500 000 passengers per year, up from the 500 000. The new runway can now accommodate wide-bodied aircraft, such as the Airbus A340, Boeing 777 and Boeing 787.
Indeed, Victoria Falls needs facilities of this quality and capacity. It adds to the status the destination already has at the global stage.
As the President said, we hope that the new-look Victoria Falls International Airport will help stimulate tourist arrivals into the country.
Connectivity by air has been enhanced as the facility can now handle larger aircraft. This means that some airlines that could not serve the Victoria Falls route because of limitations posed by the airport can now do so. Its handling capacity in terms of passengers has also been trebled which means that more visitors can come by air.
The Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry and tour operators must take this as a challenge. Yes, they have always been marketing Victoria Falls. However, with the new airport, they need to intensify their destination marketing activities citing also the improved capacity of the investment.
“I think Vic Falls is on a goldmine,” Karen Dewhurst from the cruise company Zambezi Explorer told CNN in January 2015. “It’s a beautiful location, and people are beginning to hear about it, and with Zimbabwe being much safer . . . it’ll definitely pick up.”
Victoria Falls is the best we have, but we expect it to continue being the drawcard for entire tourism industry to benefit. We have the country’s biggest game park about 107km to the east of the resort town, Lake Kariba and its wide selection of water activities is on the same river as the Victoria Falls, the Matopos is further to the east, the same for the Great Zimbabwe Monument, Gonarezhou National Park and the Eastern Highlands.
Apart from marketing strategies, we look forward to more investment across the industry as we have seen with the airport and others — the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo in Bulawayo, Buffalo Range in Chiredzi.
The market needs more hotels and lodges to cater for the increase in arrivals that we all anticipate. We don’t think we have sufficient high-end hotels in Victoria Falls. It is also unfortunate that Bulawayo lacks a five-star hotel.
Air Zimbabwe, which is facing huge operational challenges must come to the party as well for we cannot have new, larger airports in the country that are used by foreign airlines while our national flag carrier continues to wallow in a marginal role. Given the enhanced handling capacity that Victoria Falls International Airport now has, the airline should have more flights there with bigger planes directly linking the town with key destinations abroad.