I boarded my SA Airlink flight from Nelspruit to Livingstone on Wednesday 21st August, keen to see what Livingstone and the Victoria Falls area looked like after the recent revamp at the behest of UNWTO.
Disembarking from the plane, I was one of the first passengers to arrive at the sparkling brand new international terminal at Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport. Just unveiled after the airport’s third upgrade, it’s beautiful – all gleaming chrome and glass, the new terminal flaunts modern elegance, down to the plasma screens displaying arrivals and departures.
Not quite complete when I passed through it, several shops in the terminal are not yet open and the banks are still in the domestic terminal, although they will open in the new terminal soon. Also, state-of-the-art immigration procedures – fingerprinting and photographing of visitors and scanning of passports – is causing delays as the officials get to grips with it. The bunched arrivals of three international flights within an hour add to the chaos but these are teething problems and will settle down as arrival/departure slots and technology are tamed.
The old terminal now handles domestic traffic, and flights arrive here from Lusaka, Mufwe, Ndola as well as from airstrips on the Lower Zambezi. The additional capacity offered by the new international terminal has opened a gateway for passengers from Kenyan to Zambia, and it will be possible to arrive in Livingstone from Kenya and hop onto a BA flight to London from Lusaka. Kenyan Airways, BA, SAA, Airlink and Ethiopian Airlines are all serviced by the new terminal. My fingers are crossed that the runway is extended in the near future, enabling Air Emirates to land directly from Dubai.
|Fast facts: Livingstone, Zambia|
|Population||Approx. 140 000|
|How it got its name||After Dr. David Livingstone, the first European to see, name and publicize the Falls|
|Originally known as||Old Drift|
Let’s face it, first impressions are critical and even more so with tourism. I’d known about the UNWTO mandate before I arrived, but I wasn’t prepared for how seriously Livingstone was taking the revamp and refurbishment of their share of the World Heritage Site. Whichever way I looked, a brand new town had been created. Every, and I mean every, road had been upgraded, resurfaced and repainted, including the originally potholed ‘Royal Mile’ to the ferry point where the African Queen and the African Princess dock.
All the buildings in Livingstone have been repainted, taxi’s resprayed and spruced up and most hotels have undergone refurbishment. A big player in this has to be the duty dispensation, valid until December – any items imported for improving a tourism product are dutyfree. Everything was pristine and there was no sign of any litter. A strong law enforcement presence is noted, checking vehicle road worthiness and speeding. At the falls themselves, on the Zambian side the pathways have been upgraded, railings installed, alien plants removed and the curio market spruced up.
The Royal Livingstone Express has been granted a regular slot by Zambian railways to cross the repainted bridge. The lines have been redone and the piles of rubble removed. Like a kid in a candy store, when the train stopped on the bridge during Thursday’s train run I gazed in awe at the spectacular view, possibly the best one of the falls. Sadly, the dry season -lack of rain and the low river and meant that the falls were not at their voluminous best. Fellow passengers the Minister of Transport, Supply & Communications as well as the Minister of Trade, Commerce and Industry, noted the lack of water over the falls and promised to investigate the maintenance schedule of pumping water from the river on the Zambian side. A changed schedule will assist in a better flow and make for a more impressive view of the falls in the dry season which is what happened for UNWTO!
The Zimbabwe side have done their share to prepare for UNWTO as well however they have not managed to keep up with their Livingstone colleagues; the terminal at Victoria Falls airport is behind schedule and not completed, and while some effort has been made to repair the roads, this side of the falls hasn’t yet achieved the sparkle of Zambia possibly due to an election so close to the event.
From a tourism perspective, Livingstone is now a dream destination. Extensive training has been given to staff in the tourism industry, lifting the already friendly service to a higher level. Even the border posts have had a lick of paint and revamp, the officials welcoming and doing their best to ensure the queues of the past are not repeated.
Offering something for everyone, world class facilities and the friendly hospitality that is truly African, I was blown away by the changes that have happened in Livingstone. This is indeed the African holiday ideal.
By: 5VictoriaFalls24 / Bushtracks Africa
Date: 20 September 2013