Leonard Ncube, Victoria Falls Reporter
VARIOUS stakeholders in Victoria Falls have come together in an effort to craft a strategy to make the resort town a sustainable green tourism destination.
This is in line with recommendations from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), to which Zimbabwe is a member, for tourism players to have programmes that sustain green tourism.
In Zimbabwe the idea for green tourism was first mooted at the 2014 Sanganai/Hlanganani Expo in Harare when Government implored the industry to start implementing the concept.
Zimbabwe became the first country in Africa to embrace the green tourism concept under which industry players are expected to harness environmentally friendly activities when the then Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry launched the concept in Victoria Falls in 2016 with 13 hotels and lodges being recognised for going green by embracing environment friendly practices.
Green tourism also called responsible tourism, sustainable or eco-tourism, refers to environmentally friendly tourism activities that have low negative impact on the surroundings.
Modern tourism trends encourage eco-friendly activities as a way of keeping resorts not only in their natural state, but to reduce chances of pollution and violation of any facility that has to do with tourism.
Victoria Falls was a few years ago declared a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) whose focus is tourism hence the need for the industry to be eco-friendly.
The resort town, also known as the country’s tourism capital, has a vision to become Africa’s green tourism destination.
The town has a challenge to beat competition from the industry across Zambezi River in Livingstone and also South Africa, which has been unscrupulous for literally marketing Victoria Falls as its own.
Greenline Africa Trust, a community based environment organisation organised an all-stakeholders meeting at a local hotel recently to chart a way forward.
The meeting was attended by various public and private organisations across different sectors including tourism and aviation, Government departments, Victoria Falls Municipality, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ), Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ), Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks), individual operators and representatives of youths and community groups among others.
Greenline Africa Trustee Ms Charlene Hewat said the collective vision is to make the green tourism concept sustainable.
“We brought together all heads of organisations to discuss and set a framework on how we can move Victoria Falls to be a recognised green sustainable destination. We started some years ago working towards Victoria Falls becoming a green destination and now we have added the word ‘sustainable’ to make sure it’s not only green but sustainable for future generations,” said Ms Hewat.
She said the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic had inspired the industry to introspect and re-strategise.
“We do clean-ups and waste management towards green tourism. Hotels and lodges are working with ZTA in their various environment management programmes. We want to go for recognition internationally and together we can do it.
“What Covid-19 has taught us all is that it’s important to get our communities right locally. So let’s get Victoria Falls right and then tourists will come. This is an opportunity to take us to the next level and it’s very possible,” she said.
Part of the sustainable green tourism concept is minimising overdevelopment of the World Heritage resort, which is expected to maintain its natural and pristine environment.
Ms Hewat said the idea is not to stop development but to look at it in a sustainable manner since the world is growing.
Victoria Falls will soon be a city if its application for the status is approved by Government.
Green tourism and environment expert Ms Veronica Chapman implored the different organisations in the resort town to identify champions who will work as a team to develop the vision and achieve key result areas to enable the town to become an internationally recognised sustainable green destination.
“The goal is to look at how Victoria Falls can become an internationally recognised sustainable destination. That’s the vision and the issue is how do we make that happen? We are already working to a larger extent with businesses for us to really become a recognised sustainable destination.
“This is something we have always been talking about but to achieve this goal we need all sectors to work together. We had started and doing a lot in the town in terms of sustainability but now everybody had been disengaged because of Covid-19.
“We are reengaging as leadership from various organisations and talking as a sector to plan the way forward so that information is disseminated,” she said.
Ms Chapman said some of the measurable are waste, energy and water management, culture, heritage, wildlife protection and land use planning and development.
“We don’t want our town to become one of those destinations that are affected by over tourism in terms of over-development hence losing that unique special authenticity of being a true green destination. This also includes management of communities. When you talk about responsible tourism you have to look at and take care of our own people or community, addressing human-wildlife conflict and deforestation. We have to come up with workable solutions to these challenges,” she said.
Ms Chapman said there are lessons to be leant by Victoria Falls from other world resorts that are recognised as green destinations.
She said the resort town is confident of a brighter post-Covid-19 era, with the pandemic having given the industry time to reflect on how to move forward in a very positive way, backed by a responsive community.
Speaking during the meeting, Victoria Falls Airport manager Mr Ronnie Masawi said Victoria Falls “has amazing champions who can take the town to the next level given proper facilitation and support.”
One of the town’s leading hotels Ilala Lodge has since adopted a sustainable waste management plan as it has taken a leading stand in championing green tourism through various activities in the resort town.
Located strategically closer to the Rainforest to give a clear view and spray of the waterfall, Ilala Lodge has started several projects such as cleaning the surroundings, maintaining roads and donating towards environmental management.
One of its executives, Ms Amy Clements said hotels can play a critical role in achieving sustainable green destination status.
She said Ilala Lodge Hotel had a passion for sustainable environment and its employees were committed to ensuring pollution free and attractive surroundings.
“We have adopted some sections of the town where we maintain the road markings, have donated metal bins and participated in cleaning of the area. Our staff are always busy landscaping around the premises which has also helped us keep them busy during the lockdown,” she said.
The local authority has also played its part providing regulatory instruments like policies and by-laws to safeguard the environment as it has a mandate to safeguard the world heritage destination.
Its Public Relations and Economic Development Officer Mr Ngqabutho Moyo said the local authority had established partnerships with several organisations on the environment and climate preservation initiatives to help maintain Victoria Falls’ green status.
“Victoria Falls is home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World hence it has the mandate to play vanguard role to world stakeholders as the keeper of the property. The local authority plays a facilitator, developmental and regulatory role in ensuring that the destination maintains its natural state.
It also ensures that local and foreign tourists have easy access to the Falls through provision of excellent services such as trafficable roads, sewer, clean water and solid waste management and other public utilities,” he said.
Mr Moyo said council also regulates heights on development structures to keep the destination in its pristine state.
“Adherence to these stringent regulatory guidelines ensures Victoria Falls maintains its status as one of the Seven Wonders of the World and also a certified world heritage site,” he said.
Mr Moyo said the local authority’s role is not limited to consumptive services but also promotes investment in different areas.
He said the municipality collaborates with various local and international agencies to make Victoria Falls a preferred destination of choice for both tourism and investment.
Mr Moyo said the town is represented at an international level by its engineering department in the Joint Technical Committee, which is part of the Joint Integrated Management Plan (JIMP) between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
“The joint initiative is a sustainable development watchdog that guides new projects and protects the livelihoods of both flora and fauna. The council’s department conducts spatial mapping of core and buffer zones and monitors developments in accordance to land uses highlighted in the spatial development plan and draft master plan,” he said.
All stakeholders are also collaborating through the “We are Victoria Falls Initiative” which was established under the Zimbabwe Destination Programme by the Tourism Ministry supported by International Finance Corporation (IFC) to strategise for the sector’s post Covid-19 period. — @ncubeleon