Africa Albida TourismTOURISM and Hospitality Industry Minister Honourable Walter Mzembi has endorsed Africa Albida Tourism’s investments in Victoria Falls as fitting his vision to boost infrastructure to vastly grow the tourist attraction’s economy to $30 billion a year. Mzembi was speaking at the 20th anniversary celebrations of Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, which was attended by more than 200 local and regional tourism operators, over the weekend.

Africa Albida Tourism, the parent company of Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, has invested heavily in its properties over the last three years, and work has begun on Santonga, an $18 million education, entertainment and conservation park, which will interactively tell the story of Victoria Falls.

“It fits very well with my own vision on biodiversity. It’s a biodiverse project that you are doing under Santonga, and I want to assure you that that project should go ahead,” Hon Mzembi said.

The new $150 million Victoria Falls International Airport, due to open next August, which will triple capacity, would be a big player in boosting earnings to $30 billion a year, to match Niagara Falls, Mzembi said. Tourism would become the catalyst for the economic turnaround of Zimbabwe, and the Minister hoped to kick start earnings by declaring Victoria Falls a special economic zone, which he described as a tax haven.

He appealed to local operators to provide input on how to shape his proposal, which could transform Victoria Falls from its current $1 billion a year economy between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Mzembi is due to report back to Cabinet next month.

In addition to the special economic zone, the Minister hoped to create an “ultra-modern” Victoria Falls on 300ha adjacent to the airport, to boost infrastructure and therefore earnings. “Next to the airport I intend to create a Niagara, a $30 billion economy … we realise that the difference between our own Falls and Niagara is that we have not planted any infrastructure that captures the imagination of the demographic dividend, the younger group,” Mzembi said.

However, the Minister gave assurances the actual Falls and their immediate surroundings would remain natural and untouched.

Africa Albida Tourism chief executive Ross Kennedy said despite several tough years for the tourism industry, he believed the future of tourism at Victoria Falls and in Zimbabwe was extremely bright. “That is why we have invested millions in our products in the last few years – our first move was to add the premium luxury Victoria Falls Safari Club, which we believe sets new standards for the industry and the area in terms of quality,” Kennedy said.

“Next we created the Victoria Falls Safari Suites, which are very high quality two- and three-bedroom accommodation offerings, that has plugged a gap in the market, and now we have fully refurbished and upgraded our flagship, the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. We are fully committed investors and operators in Victoria Falls, and we have no other intentions than to be at the top of the pile,” Kennedy said.

The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge 20th anniversary four-day celebrations included an Amazing Race, in which six teams completed challenges at different sites in Victoria Falls, such as learning a traditional dance routine and solving a crime scene. It was won by Team Lokuthula.

The guests also enjoyed the Lodge’s daily vulture culture experience, as well as local delicacies, dancing and drumming at The Boma – Place of Eating, and dinner at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge’s MaKuwa-Kuwa Restaurant to the sounds of the Detema Jazz Band. A cruise along the Zambezi River was also part of the programme, and before guests departed on Monday they went on a tour of the Victoria Falls International Airport under construction, which is expected to change the face of the region.

Ground work began at Santonga, to be built on 80ha near Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, last month. The education, entertainment and conservation park, which is expected to draw 120,000 visitors a year, is due to open in June 2016

From : All Africa

23 December 2014