TOURISTS keen to see Africa’s famed Victoria Falls but deterred by tales of political violence and economic collapse in Zimbabwe are switching to the Zambian side, where new hotels are cashing in on the influx.Holidaymakers contribu
te roughly 4% of Zambia’s economy, and officials, tour guides and visitors all say that bad news from Zimbabwe, once a popular holiday destination, is fuelling foreign interest.
“Why would you go to Zimbabwe when you could go to other places that are more democratically run,” said Ken Reynolds, a tourist from Sydney, Australia.
“We’ve heard bad things about Zimbabwe. We have friends there.”
Reynolds, his wife and a friend are on a tour that has taken them to Namibia and Botswana and will end in South Africa.
It will avoid Zimbabwe, due to hold elections at the end of March.
In February, Zambia’s Tourism minister Patrick Kalfungwa told a conference that Zimbabwe’s crisis was a key factor in pushing the number of tourists to over 610 000 in 2004 from 160 000 four years earlier.
By 2010, Zambia intends to be catering for a million tourists a year.
That would be a huge boon for this poor country of 10 million as tourism is a labour-intensive sector which creates jobs and brings in badly needed hard currency.
Landlocked Zambia had a gross national income per capita of just US$340 in 2002, according to the latest World Bank data.
Decades of neglect have left much of its infrastructure in tatters but sunshine and wildlife are big draws.
For many tourists the main appeal is the Victoria Falls, or Mosi-oa-Tunya, loosely translated as “the smoke that thunders”.
Here the mighty Zambezi river plunges almost twice the height of Niagara into a canyon 108 metres deep and 1,7 kilometres wide on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border.
In the past, most tourists saw the falls from the Zimbabwean town of Victoria Falls.
While many backpacker lodges and hotels remain, tour operators say prices have risen as inflation grips the country and the cost puts people off.
The major shift came around 2002, when several large new hotels began to open in the nearby Zambian town of Livingstone, named after the “discoverer” of the falls — Scottish missionary David Livingstone.
In 2000 President Robert Mugabe’s government began a chaotic and sometimes violent programme of seizing Zimbabwe’s white-owned farmland, attracting widespread western condemnation. — Nampa-Reuters.