The years 2020 and 2021 were difficult ones for global tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic-induced travel restrictions. The social and economic impacts were unbearable for major tourist destinations such as Victoria Falls whose economy is entirely dependent on tourist visits.
With the restrictions scrapped as the pandemic subsided this year, the rebound has been met with varied challenges in many tourist destinations but certainly, there is noticeable growth. But for Victoria Falls, the country’s premium destination, the year 2022 has been exciting and things are just about to go a step higher as we enter the peak festive holiday season.
The rebound in tourist interest and new airlines connecting to the destination- all in just a short space of time since relaxation of restrictions shows the resilience of the city and the commendable work the government put in the fight against the pandemic.
Victoria Falls became the first city in Southern Africa to achieve herd immunity after 77% of its population got vaccinated as early as April last year. This would pave way to exciting things to come.
According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourist arrivals almost tripled in January to July 2022 (+172%) compared to the same period of 2021. This means the sector recovered almost 60% of pre-pandemic levels. The steady recovery reflects strong pent-up demand for international travel as well as the easing or lifting of travel restrictions to date (86 countries had no COVID-19 related restrictions as of 19 September 2022).
One of the most exciting developments to take place this year was the coming on board of airliner, Fastjet Zimbabwe which launched two new routes connecting Victoria Falls to Nelspruit Kruger Mpumalanga in South Africa and Maun in Botswana.
“Victoria Falls is one of the Natural Seven Wonders of the World and a highly sought-after tourist destination in Zimbabwe, Africa and beyond. This makes Victoria Falls a key and strategic destination to our network and plans,” Fastjet Zimbabwe Spokesperson Nunurai Ndawana told 263Chat Business.
“Our role as a proud Zimbabwean airline is to ensure that the destination is better connected to other key destinations in the region, we have done so by connecting it to Harare, Johannesburg, Maun and Nelspruit Kruger Mpumalanga. We will continue to assess new sustainable and viable route opportunities in the region to ensure seamless connectivity to and from Victoria Falls,” added Ndawana.
Still in the air, In March German airline Eurowings Discover launched the first long-haul service into Victoria Falls and also the first by a European carrier connecting to Frankfurt with a brief stop in Namibia in both directions.
This was followed by Airlink, a privately-owned regional airline also launching the Victoria Falls-Johannesburg route in August.
Commenting on the launch, Airlink CEO and Managing Director, Rodger Foster said Victoria Falls is a jewel in the region’s tourism crown.
“This brand new Airlink route will be our second to Victoria Falls, which we already serve from Cape Town,” Foster said.
The opening of air space and enhancement of air connectivity among tourist hotspots remain one of the pillar stones for sustainable tourism. It often comes with viability challenges especially with the global rising costs in fuel and weak consumer power.
But airlines such as Fastjet are already noticing commendable responses from the market since introducing the new routes connecting Victoria Falls.
“In general, new aviation routes usually take 6 months to a year to fully show signs of development and growth, however with these destinations we continue to generate demand and interest from the tourism market and the future for these routes remains promising,” said Ndawana.
It is also interesting to note that some investment projects taking place or at least lined up in the short term in the city reinforce confidence in the destination and are a sign of greater things to come.
This year Global Renaissance Investments announced a US$ 145 million project set for next year towards building a world class mall in Harare and a hotel in Victoria Falls. This is a positive development for the destination in terms of its infrastructure development.
Furthermore, Africa Albida Tourism Group’s Victoria Falls Safari Spa whose construction started around April this year is another game changer in the resort city offering beauty therapy services, private relaxation rooms and café.
Then there is the Palm River Hotel, with a 73-room presidential suite, executive and honeymoon suites, 60 deluxe rooms, and standard rooms opened at the end of last year. This is a multi-million dollar luxurious hotel, built for US$24.6 million through a partnership by Old Mutual Zimbabwe and Spencer’s Creek.
IHG Hotels & Resorts, one of the world’s leading hotel companies, recently announced the signing of a management agreement with HOC Hospitality Investments Ltd., for a new-build Vignette hotel in Victoria Falls. This marks the brand’s foray into the Middle East and Africa region, as the 10th Vignette hotel, coinciding with its first Anniversary.
With Victoria Falls having been recently accorded city status to become the second tourist city in the southern Africa region after Cape Town, the destination now looks set to continue on an upward trajectory.