Victoria Falls basks in UNWTO glory

AS THE ON-GOING United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly moved to neighbouring Livingstone, Zambia yesterday, Victoria Falls residents expressed confidence the well-attended conference would be the beginning of better things to come for the resort town.

Report by Obey Manayiti/Melissa Mpofu

Victoria Falls residents and the business community said the fact that the conference was the best-attended in the history of the UNWTO was enough reason to be optimistic about the future of the tourism industry.

“It just feels good that we are rated the best,” Mehluli Dube, a resident, said. “We need to congratulate ourselves for that and the general peaceful atmosphere that is prevailing in Victoria Falls.”

Morgan Dube, a senior manager at a local company that offers helicopter tours across the mighty Zambezi, said although the conference had not made an immediate impact in terms of business, the buzz it created bodes well for the future.

“I think there has been a major impact generally,” Morgan said. “However, for us we haven’t seen much of business because the delegates are still tied up with their busy schedule. Hopefully some delegates will come after the conference when they are not busy. The clients we are having are the pre-booked ones.”

Most hotels in Victoria Falls are fully booked with foreign delegates taking up the majority of the rooms. Locals were forced to seek accommodation from lodges outside the resort town. Some enterprising Victoria Falls residents also rented out their houses to visitors.

“Well, business is doing fine,” Pieter Burger Herbst a senior manager at a Livingstone Lodge said. “From the year 2000 onwards, tourism business was going down, but after the inception of the government of national unity, there was an influx of tourists because they had some confidence in the then new government.”

Masimba Matyatya an artist who travelled from Beitbridge with his Wedande and Dandemutande band said he was excited by the cultural exchange opportunities offered by the conference. “As artists, we are benefiting in terms of cultural exchanges. We are also buying and learning to play some instruments we are seeing from other artists who came to grace this conference,” Matyatya said. “From an economic point of view, our CDs and clothing wares have been bought by people from Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

“This will definitely help us to spread our wings far. The co-hosting helped us too to go further afield into Zambia and mix and mingle with artists there.”

Hoteliers, night spots and restaurants have been making brisk business with most delegates preferring to buy from food outlets instead of hotels, which they said were expensive.

The owner of the popular Mai T Eating House — who wanted to be referred to only as Mai T — said the conference had seen their daily profits going up by between 40 and 50%.

“Most of our customers have been from Zambia, Ghana, South Africa and Harare,” she said. Residents are renting out their houses for as much as $850 for the duration of the conference while others are charging between $50 and $100 per night.

…as taxi operators unhappy with CMED monopoly

Taxi operators are crying foul after the Central Mechanical and Engineering Department was mandated by the government to provide all the transport for the conference delegates. A taxi driver who spoke on condition of anonymity, said business was poor during the conference.

“We hoped the UNWTO General Assembly would empower the locals, but that’s not the case, as we don’t seem to be benefiting much from this mega event,” he said.

“For example, a trip to the conference centre located at the Elephant Hills hotel from Victoria Falls town costs $10, but unfortunately we are not plying that route that much as there is free transport going there.”

The conference officially opened by President Robert Mugabe on Saturday ends tommorow.

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