SOME Victoria Falls residents are already cashing in on the forthcoming United National World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly set for the resort town, by letting out their houses during the week-long event, it has emerged.
Tourism and Hospitality minister Walter Mzembi told journalists at the weekend that all hotels in the resort town were fully booked, meaning most locals outside Victoria Falls would be booked at rented houses.
“We would like to thank the Victoria Falls community for their support during the hosting of this event.
“Some have left their homes for Bulawayo so as to accommodate the high number of delegates attending the summit,” Mzembi said.
“A three-bedroomed house will be rented out for $800 during the week-long assembly.”
At least 65 countries had been accredited by the UNWTO secretariat last week ahead of the assembly which starts on Saturday.
Mzembi said delegates had already started trickling in with hotels having been ordered to release rooms which locals had been holding on to, for international guests.
“Through the intervention of the Office of the President, we’ve managed to get 120 rooms that government departments and local companies had been holding on to, to make way for international delegates,” he said.
“We have secured alternative accommodation for them at lodges.”
Zimbabwe and Zambia will co-host the event. The event is scheduled to be officially opened by President Robert Mugabe and closed by his Zambian counterpart Michael Sata.
During the assembly period, Zimbabwe and Zambia agreed to scrap the visa system to enable the smooth flow of delegates.
“We don’t expect any travelling problems between the two cities as long as one was accredited by the UNWTO secretariat,” the minister said. “At the present moment, we have a gratis visa.”
Mzembi added that United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon would not be attending the assembly, but would be present electronically as he had sent a video message which would be played on the opening night.
Zambia Tourism minister Sylvia Masebo said she was happy with progress made thus far in both countries.
“With a few days left before we host the general assembly and showcase the majestic Victoria Falls to the world, I am happy to say I’m impressed with progress made in Zambia and Zimbabwe,” she said.
Masebo congratulated Zimbabwe for conducting peaceful elections stating that her ministry had feared the elections would compromise the hosting of the general assembly if the polls had been violent like in 2008.
Zimbabwe ambassador to Zambia, Lovemore Mazemo, said the event presented an opportunity for the two countries to prove that the confidence placed in them was not in vain.
Both countries are now putting final touches on the semi-permanent structures which will be used for the plenary sessions.
The Zimbabwean structure is expected to be completed today.