Uncertainty surrounds the repositioning of Victoria Falls as a conferencing destination as the US$1,2 million aluminium and glass structure that served as a conference centre during the recent United Nations World Tourism Organisation general assembly has been dismantled. The structure, which was semi-permanent and was said to have a life-span of 30 years, was put at the Elephant Hills Resort hotel before the general assembly.
Zimbabwe and Zambia co-hosted the UNWTO 20th session in Victoria Falls and Livingstone between August 24 and 29.
Before the general assembly, outgoing Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Engineer Walter Mzembi said the structure, with a capacity to take about 1 500 people, was going to be retained and the ministry was in talks with hospitality group Africa Sun Limited, owners of Elephant Hills Resort, for a management contract.
Eng Mzembi had said the Government’s thrust to position Victoria Falls as a conferencing destination would also result in Zimbabwe hosting a major convention next year in the resort town.
However, a visit to Elephant Hills Resort a couple of days ago found the structure, which was commended by President Mugabe when he officially opened it, being dismantled.
Workers were busy dismantling it and putting its pieces which were imported from Germany into boxes while other pieces where being loaded in South African registered haulage trucks for an unknown destination.
|Fast facts about the Vic Falls Conference Centre:|
|Materials used to build it||Aluminium and glass|
|Located||Elephant Hills Resort, Victoria Falls|
|Expected capacity||1 500 people|
|Number of storeys||3|
The air conditioners, state-of-the-art sound system, television monitors, computers donated by mobile network operators, doors, first floor rooms, stairs and carpets had been removed and what remained was the shell which the workers said would be removed in a day’s time.
The workers said they were under instruction from their employer, Chattels Infrastructure from Cape Town, to take it down.
In interviews, representatives of the tourism industry said the removal of the marquee was an attempt to obliterate the gains of the just ended tourism indaba.
“Bringing down the structure like what they have done is not good for the tourism sector.
“We had considered the marquee as our future for conferencing and it had become an attraction for conferences and its removal is clearly an attempt to obliterate the foot prints of the general assembly,” said Shearwater Adventures public relations manager Mr Clement Mukwasi.
“We call on the Government to make sure that the marquee does not leave the country.
“Two major conferences had been pencilled for the resort town next year on the background of the conference centre.
“What will become of them if this structure which cost the country a fortune to bring to the country is taken back to South Africa?
“We are very unhappy with its removal,” said another tour operator.
Reached for comment, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry Mrs Margret Sangarwe said the marquee was being removed so that a firm foundation is laid first.
“We did not put a proper foundation because of limited time as we approached the general assembly. So we want a proper foundation first before the structure is laid.
“The marquee is ours and it is here to stay,” she said.
Asked if it was going to cost the Government more money to remove and mount it again, Mrs Sangarwe said: “We still need to talk to Chattels but the money we paid them should cover this process.”
The advantages of semi-permanent structures were that they were cost-effective, manufactured off-site in a controlled environment, more rapidly and simply constructed than conventional buildings.
They are also easily reconfigured, transportable, technologically advanced, functional and aesthetically pleasing.
Date: 10 September 2013