The Victoria Falls resort town gears to re-open to international visitors as the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) last week allowed tourist operators back into the rainforest to view the mighty Victoria Falls which has been at its highest flow in over a decade this year.
Last week, government ministers as well as Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) and Zimparks top brass, visited the country’s prime resort town of Victoria Falls to assess the situation first-hand. The officials met with key stakeholders in the industry, aiming to prepare for the eventual resumption of tourism in a safe and sustainable manner.
Tourism operators, reeling in the wake of international travel bans due to the Covid-19 pandemic, are eager to re-open as soon as international travel resumes. however, the sector and government are determined to do it in a manner that ensures the safety of tourists and tourism workers.
The government, in partnership with tourism operators, has developed protocols and guidelines to be released to tourism players allowing a cautious, staged re-opening.
In an interview with victoriafalls24, Godfrey Koti, head of corporate affairs for ZTA, stressed that the government was focussed on “health before wealth”. Priority has been given to equipping medical facilities and creating protocols for tourism operators.
“We want our guests to know we are a safe, organised destination,” Koti said.
All institutions dealing with tourists now have stringent protocols to follow prior to re-opening outlined in Statutory Instrument 90 of 2020 and in accordance with World Health Organisation guidelines. hotels and lodges are encouraged to reach out to ZTA to have their facilities deemed fit for the opening.
At a meeting with Tourism Minister Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu last week, Victoria Falls tourism operators expressed eagerness to get into parks to show the world what Zimbabwe has to offer through social media platforms.
A local tourism operator expressed eagerness to get in and take footage of one of the Seven Wonders of the World putting on a show that the world is missing out on due to Covid-19 travel bans.
“While people across the world are stuck at home dreaming of their next holiday, let’s show them what this beautiful country has to offer. Let’s show them the mighty Victoria Falls in all its glory,” a tourism operator in the resort town said.
Neighbouring countries – South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia – have all opened at least some of their national parks for domestic visitors in recent weeks. The Zambian side of the falls was re-opened last month.
Further pressure is being exerted for the full opening of national parks for local residents. At a time when morale has been hit by the Covid-19 tourism downturn, Victoria Falls residents are frustrated by not being allowed into local parks like Zambezi National Park or Chamabondo National Park.
As one resident put it: “We are allowed into the crowded supermarket and we are now allowed back to work, but we can’t go into national parks and enjoy our beautiful backyard and wildlife.”
Zimparks director-general Fulton Mangwanya, however, has expressed concern over the downturn in revenue for the authority which is soon expected to operate as a stand-alone parastatal. Revenue from local residents would go a long way in providing the authority with some income to fund its operations through these tough times.
Tourism, one of the sectors hard-hit by the lockdown, remains optimistic about the future. Plans are underway on a recovery plan which centres around promoting Victoria Falls and the Kaza (Kavango-
Zambezi) Transfrontier Conservation Area as Southern Africa’s hub for safari travel. The region has a vast population of wildlife, plenty of sunshine and wide-open spaces where the incidence of Covid-19 has been extremely low.
The minister also re-assured the government’s commitment to a ZW$500 million support package to cushion the tourism sector from the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown. The facility is available to registered operators through their banks.
Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland North province, which encompasses Zimbabwe’s star attractions of Victoria Falls, Hwange National Game Park and part of Lake Kariba, has recorded only six cases of Covid-19 to date of which three have already recovered.