Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
“WE are taxi drivers operating within the tourism zone so we are bound to know what is within our proximity. We transport local and international tourists. When we transport the tourists, we must know the packages that are available in the market.
So, when someone comes from Malawi, US or United Kingdom they will want to know the accommodation that suits their budget and we know those lodges and hotels,” says Mr Enock Chinowadzimba, a Victoria Falls-based taxi driver,
“Some might even want to know the food provided in those lodgings. Some will tell you that ‘we are from India and we don’t eat beef so where can I get vegetarian meals,’ so we all know the places.”
He believes that taxi drivers are an integral part of the country’s tourism sector as they are the ones who first interact with clients before they make bookings into hotels and lodges.
Mr Chinowadzimba has been a taxi driver for nearly 20 years and has been taking take care of his family from the trade.
He however, bemoans lack of recognition and is regarded as small players in the sector.
“We are not appreciated by the mainstream tourism sector. When they do their meetings, they sideline us but in reality, we are part of the sector.
The hospitality industry wants to co-operate with big transport companies in the sector forgetting that we offer their people what they need.
For example, big companies when transporting tourists, they book activities for a group of people and they don’t give special attention to individual tourists,” he said.
“But if someone is in my taxi, I give them the individual attention and I would like to understand what they want. So, we play a big part in the tourism sector.”
Mr Chinowadzimba said in the past, companies were paying them for bringing clients but not anymore.
“They now only give registered companies but forget that we also bring clients. They don’t consider the fact that we would have given them business,” said Mr Chinowadzimba.
Another taxi driver Mr Tinofa Chabvayo said he has been in the taxi business since 1997.
He said he has become knowledgeable with issues in the tourism sector that some clients pay him to act as their tour guide.
“Even if a tourist wants to be taken on a village tour, I’m able to take them and explain all the processes and the different foods that are prepared.
My only let down is that when a client wants to be taken to a national park, I would not be able to do so because of the type of car I drive.
At the national parks they only allow land cruisers,” Mr Chabvayo.
Mr Chabvayo said in the past, they used to get commissions for the bringing clients to hotels and lodges but the trend is no longer common.
A couple from Gweru, Mr Mbongeni Moyo and Mrs Chelsea Moyo, who were on honeymoon in the resort town commended the hospitality of the taxi drivers.
“Well, we had little knowledge of the places we wanted to visit and wondered how we would go about our business.
But the moment we arrived here a taxi driver took care of us asking about the type of accommodation that we wanted and took us to that place.
He was very helpful and even told us about the places to visit and packages that are offered. These days it’s difficult to trust anyone especially people you meet in the streets but that type of care is what we needed.
It made our honeymoon very memorable. The driver even knew the cheaper options that are not properly marketed that we could visit.
The driver really marketed Victoria Falls to us,” said Mr Moyo.
He said the driver would drop them and return to pick them up at their preferred times.
Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe president Mr Farai Chimba said taxi drivers are an important player within the tourism value chain.
“The taxi driver is an enabler as they are the first point of contact after most of our clients arrive in our airports . . . So, if you get a taxi driver who is impolite and not service oriented, by the time the they arrive at the hotel they would be disgruntled already,” said Mr Chimba.
“They complement and are also sales people for most of the attractions and facilities. In the context of Victoria Falls, a taxi driver will take someone from Elephant Hills to the Falls, he is actively selling the Boma, sunset cruises, et cetera so they are very important.
They also create awareness of any destination more than a guy who sitting at a hotel.”
Mr Chimba said more needs to be done to recognise the role played by taxi drivers.
“I think there is more that needs to be done at synergies between tourism players and taxi drivers. It works to some extent in Victoria Falls but this is something that needs to be explored nationally as they are part of the tourism value chain,” he said. — @nqotshili