SOUTH African travel and tourism executives have lamented the high cost of holidaying in the Victoria Falls, saying it is one of the most expensive tourism destinations in the world.
By Faith Zaba
The executives told businessdigest during the recent 2019 Africa Tourism Leadership Forum (ATLF) and Awards in Durban that Zimbabwe should try and make Victoria Falls affordable so that Africans can also marvel at one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
The executives said in the spirit of promoting intra-Africa trade, African countries should devise strategies that will allow its people to travel across borders to visit tourism destinations.
The three-day meeting, whose theme was “stimulating intra-Africa Travel through thought leadership” was attended by chief executives in travel, aviation, hospitality and tourism sectors.
ATLF is a Pan-African dialogue platform that brings together key stakeholders of Africa’s travel, tourism, hospitality and aviation sectors to network, share insights and devise strategies for intra-Africa travel and tourism growth across the continent, whilst enhancing the brand equity of “Destination Africa”.
Travelstart senior commercial manager Linda Balme said it costs under R10 000 for South Africans to travel to Thailand, Bali or other such destinations including flights and accommodation for seven nights at a three-star hotel.
She said for a four-star hotel it costs around R12 000, while a special holiday package to Victoria Falls for three nights costs more a South African one.
“That does not include any excursions which the Thailand Tourism Board will throw in. Coming from outside, it is important that we make airfare affordable, accommodation affordable, even if it is in the low season of travel so that we allow Africans to travel internally,” she said.
“Just give us better deals and we will fill rooms. It is better to have a hotel that is full than one that is 60% with euros and pounds. Rather fill it and it will generate more tourism and it will be more beneficial for everyone and it will keep trade going between the two countries and the continent as a whole. We need more airlines supporting those routes and more locals visiting Victoria Falls.”
In South Africa, 74,4% of tourism comes from within Africa.
World Travel Tourism Council regional director-Africa Jillian Blackheard said: “As more Africans travel within our own countries and the continent, the low-hanging benefits for the travel and tourism sector are negated trends of seasonality, increased occupancy based on short lead time sales, tourism product diversification and demand outside limited traditional tourism regions and increase in tourism supply chain and demand for local circular economy.”
In another interview, Steward Travel coordinator and national tour guide PJ Mulaudzi said the Victoria Falls was no doubt the most expensive destination in Southern Africa.
“We cannot tell them what to charge. But when you go to Zambia, things are far much cheaper. You have a situation where even airlines are taking advantage of the Zimbabwean issue. On any given day it is 30-40% cheaper to fly out of Livingstone to Johannesburg than it is to fly out of Victoria Falls,” he said.
He said what tourists pay at a five-star hotel in South Africa is the same amount of what they pay for a bed and breakfast (BnB) in Victoria Falls.
“The hotel in Sun City is R2 500 a night and in Victoria Falls, you would have paid R10 000 for that kind of hotel,” Mulaudzi pointed out.
He said Zimbabwe needs to invest in upgrading its facilities in Victoria Falls otherwise it will continue to lag behind Zambia.
“I will give an example. The development in Victoria Falls is no way near what is happening in Zambia. The excuse they always come up with on the Zimbabwean side is that it is a national heritage site so they cannot do developments. Livingstone is also one. You go to the falls from the Zambian side and the hotel key is your entrance fees. You don’t pay not even a cent if you stay in a hotel there. If you are a non-resident, you pay US$20.”
Mulaudzi added that: “On the Zimbabwean side, which has 70% of the Falls, you pay US$30, which is a fair price. But the interesting thing is that on the Zambian side, they have state-of-the-art facilities –the toilets, the craft market. You check into any hotel in Zambia, you get ponchos (raincoats) complementary of the hotel. On the Zimbabwean side, you can stay in a US$1 000-per-night hotel, they don’t even give you anything.
“You go to the Falls and you have to pay entrance fees. You pay US$30 to enter the Falls and the toilets they have there were built by David Livingstone himself in 1855. They cannot even upgrade their toilets. The toilet paper you find, if you are lucky to find any, is the cheapest toilet paper but you have paid US$30.”
He said a visitor also has to pay US$1 for a one-quarter page leaflet with information about the Falls and a map of the trail in addition to the entrance fees.
“It is a matter of they just want to take, take and take and they don’t want to give anything back. There is a need to intervene,” Mulaudzi said.
He said there was also need to relook the payment structure at the Matobo National Park and the levy for the helicopter rides.
“You go to Matobo National Park and US$15 per person to enter. The only thing you go to Matobo to see is Cecil John Rhodes’ grave and the bushmen paintings. You have paid US$15 at the gate and, when you get to the paintings, there is someone there waiting for you to pay US$10 to see the paintings. You go to the grave, there is someone waiting there to pay to US$10 to see the grave. So why did I pay the entrance fee because it is only the grave and the paintings they have got?” he said.
“Go and check the toilets they have at the paintings. The seats are broken, there are holes and it doesn’t flush. There are these 200 or 500-litre drums of water and you have to take the water and put in the toilet and they are charging you US$10. If they want to charge that money, why not charge one entrance fees at the main gate? Again, they just want to take, take and take and not give anything.”
On the helicopter rides, he said: “The helicopter ride is US$150 and when you get to the helipad, there is someone waiting there and they want US$15 for Parks fees. Why not just charge US$165 and sort each other out later? You can’t even pay it by credit card, they want hard cash.”
He said the Zimbabwe National Parks and state tourism departments were to blame for this.
“The people I have a problem with are the national parks and the tourism authority, which are under the government. They must look more at promoting the destination more than taking and taking. At Victoria Falls if you charge me US$30 and I have clean facilities, I have no problems with paying. I just don’t understand, with the US$30, why they do not provide quality toilet paper, renovate or just buy new seats, which cost just R500 or R600, which is nothing compared to what they are charging,” he said.
Mulaudzi, however said the best tourist destinations, which are well-maintained and value for money were the Antelope Park in Gweru, the Great Zimbabwe Monument and Hwange National Park.