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Pricing madness hits Victoria Falls

by Staff reporter
17 Mar 2019 at 14:09hrs | Views
NZALA Milimo was born in Victoria Falls in 1974 and did her primary and secondary education at public schools in the resort town's ghetto townships.

But unlike the thousands of well-heeled foreign visitors who flock to the world famous Victoria Falls — a famous "honeymoon" destination and a place where international elites have vacationed and conferenced for decades round the year — she cannot tell you what a "Flight of Angels" feels like.

The 12 to 13-minute scenic helicopter flight above the Victoria Falls costs a staggering US$150, excluding national parks, government fees and fuel surcharge fees.

The longer 25-minute flight, dubbed "Zambezi Spectacular", will set you back US$284, a top-line ripple for most Zimbabweans.

The Flight of Angels is indisputably Victoria Falls' most popular activity.

The best way to view the falls, they say, is from the air.

The flight takes you on an unforgettable journey over the magnificent Victoria Falls, putting into glorious perspective the full breadth and height of the falls and the beautiful surroundings.

The finest 13-minute ride gives unrivalled viewing, photographic and filming opportunities.

Milimo has never enjoyed the helicopter ride, neither has she bungee-jumped off the famous Victoria Falls Bridge, a must-experience 111 meters of free-fall and four seconds of pure adrenalin as you plummet towards the rapids of the mighty Zambezi River strapped with well-harnessed ropes.

Despite living here for 44 years, these adventure activities that power the town's booming tourism industry, have always been beyond reach, walled off by the financial constraints of indigent locals living on a shoestring budget.

"I have never done it; I will never be able to raise that kind of money. They want US dollars," she told the Daily News on Sunday, adding only high-end tourists who flock to this town, can afford.

Victoria Falls is a small town situated in the north-west corner of Zimbabwe and rests comfortably in the Zambezi Valley just a few hundred meters from the south bank of one of Southern Africa's great rivers, the Zambezi which meanders through Mozambique right into the Indian Ocean.

At this point of the river are the mighty, world famous Victoria Falls, on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border.

The Victoria Falls or Mosi-Oa-Tunya — the smoke that thunders — is where the mighty Zambezi River suddenly plunges into a narrow gorge of over 100 meters deep, forming one of the world's largest and most beautiful waterfalls with millions of gallons of water plunging over a 1,7 km-wide cliff.

Milimo proudly says she has toured the "beautiful" falls several times.

It's the cheapest thing to do here.

It costs only RTGS$7 to get into the falls as long as you have a national ID or passport.

But just inside the entrance gate to Victoria Falls' national park, however, is this excellent cafe that does hearty breakfasts, real Zimbabwean coffee, fresh juices, burgers, toasted sandwiches and pizzas.

It's called the Rainforest Cafe.

Here a 300ml bottle of a soft drink — the cheapest thing you could buy in this eatery — costs  a cool US$2 or RTGS$6.

At the elite confectionary Haefelis in town, a soft drink costs RTGS$7 or US$2.

In the ghettos such as Chinotimba or Mkhosana, there is price differentiation.

Imported soft drinks, mainly energy drinks such as Red Bull, Monster Energy, Lucozade, and everything purchased outside the country, are sold in US dollars.

Local drinks are sold in RTGS dollars, but at almost twice the regulated price.

A 500ml of Dragon energy caffeine drink costs US$2. There is no RTGS price.

The US dollar pricing is perhaps a way by indigenous-run local businesses to sustain the imports from neighbouring Zambia and Botswana.

With a night in a three-star hotel averaging US$94 and a 5-star averaging US$202, Milimo laughs in disbelief at the idea of spending a night in the Kingdom Hotel, a luxurious, Omani-style family hotel built around a man-made lake which is within walking distance of the Victoria Falls.

"Their prices are just unaffordable for someone like me," she said, explaining that her meagre salary could never allow her such luxuries.

"It's too much, maybe if it was RTGS dollars," she said, referring to Zimbabwe's latest currency, made up of bond notes, bond coins and electronic money.

The single mother of two, who lives with her mother and aunt in the working class suburb of Chinotimba, said all her earnings are expended on food and taxi to get to work at a restaurant along the Zambezi River, where she sells Pizza to tourists.

Business is comparatively low right now after a boom during the festive season.

"In December, it was very, very busy. With what I earn, I can only afford food for the family and taxi into town. When I get to town, I then jump into the (staff) bus to work.

"The change from my salary, I usually buy some clothing. I could never afford to go to places like the Boma," she said, referring to the famous dinner and drum show, located on the Vic Falls safari lodge estate.

It is a legendary and must-do experience in Vic Falls, featuring dining and entertainment experience that offers an unforgettable fusion of mouth-watering local cuisine, energetic dance performances, interactive drumming and traditional storytelling.

The Boma, over the years, has firmly established itself as a Vic Falls highlight, featuring a sumptuous four-course meal including a delicious platter of starters, soup from the campfire, a barbeque buffet, where no plate is complete without the famous warthog "pumba steak", followed by a wide selection of deserts.

"I would really love to go there if I find someone willing to take me, but it's an unbelievable US$45 for that," the vivacious Milimo said ruefully.

The US$45 does not include drinks.

As a prime holiday destination, Vic Falls also hosts a great choice of nightlife entertainment options.

The undisputed ground zero of nightlife in Vic Falls is of course Shoestrings Cafe, with a crowd almost always, for sure, ultra-white females and Rastafarians.

It's a place with the coolest revellers, largely white females, featuring a fantastic lounge club, naughty bar, pool tables, and a banging disco.

It is definitely the place to have fun at night.

Shoestrings does come alive with music, the food is lovely, and delicious, but the prices, like everywhere else here, are ridiculous.

Taxi driver Mike, who is from Harare and is "gold digging" in Vic Falls, told the Daily News on Sunday he makes good money ferrying tourists.

During the day, he picks up tourists from the Victoria Falls International Airport and transports them into town. And he charges a cool US$30 per trip.

"It's good money wangu (my friend)," he told the Daily News on Sunday as he drove through the good roads in the town, with a durable surface material laid down.

"I don't waste money on those adventure activities, I have an extended family. It really ticks me off that I have to pay tourist prices for our own attractions."

Foreign arrivals into Zimbabwe as an aggregate has significantly picked up since the November 2017 coup.

Key to the uplift in tourist arrivals is the new Victoria Falls International Airport, which is already playing a major role in the tourist town, with new airlines, new routes and increased flight capacity from existing carriers all adding to the growing momentum that is so clearly evident across the destination.

The airport was refurbished at a cost of $150 million.

The airport's expansion began in February 2013 and was carried out by a Chinese firm China Jiangsu International Group through a concessionary loan by the China Export and Import Bank.

It was commissioned in November 2016.

It had been expected to smoothly handle around 1,5 million passengers annually up from 500 000, but is now struggling to contain the huge volumes of traffic.

This comes after BAComair is now operating larger aircraft on the Joburg-Vic Falls route, and over the coming months will be offering double daily flights on several days of the week.

The BAComair daily schedule is operated by a B737-800 aircraft, which accommodates 162 passengers in a business and economy configuration.

The airline is also licensed to operate these three additional services per week year-round as required, should there be demand.

South African Airways is operating an Airbus A330-200 with 222 seats, which is 88 seats more than their previous aircraft capacity.

In addition, Victoria Falls has new airlines servicing the destination, namely Ethiopian Airways and Kenya Airways, linking Victoria Falls to North and East Africa.

Both airlines have their own hubs and networks for better connections and packaging.

Kenya Airways fly-on from Victoria Falls to Cape Town, creating a much-needed route linking the three iconic African destinations of Cape Town, Victoria Falls and Kilimanjaro.

The latest arrivals into Victoria Falls Airport are SA Airlink, offering the Cape Town to Victoria Falls route six days a week, and Fastjet, which has now added Johannesburg to Victoria Falls three times a week to their schedule.

In the domestic air space, Air Zimbabwe and Fastjet are now both operating seven days a week, which has been a boost for domestic tourism.

New businesses are opening across the industry in the region, with new lodges, hotel rooms, restaurants, bars, and new activities, all of which combine to enhance the draw of the destination, which is a hub for Hwange, Matobo Hills, the rest of Zimbabwe and the Kaza (Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area) region.

Kaza, which is made up of five Southern African countries — Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe — boasts some of the most pristine and diverse wildlife areas left on the planet.

Mike said he drives tourists to all the local "premium locations" that he, personally, cannot afford.

The chatty taxi driver said things like the Zambezi Sunset Cruise, costing US$40 — that allows one to take in the beauty and grandeur of the mighty Zambezi River as you spot an assortment of game, including hippo, elephant and crocodile; elephant back safaris costing US$275, lion walk that allows a side-by-side walk with the king of the jungle costing a cool US$210 — have mostly become exclusive spots for foreigners.

"Mudhara, most Zimbos can't afford these prices. Even if you do mukando, forget, king. It's sad that these are our things, but we can't afford them," he said, taking a long sip from a bottle of fruit juice he had just bought from the country's largest grocery chain, OK Zimbabwe, to quench his appetite in the scorching sun.

OK Zimbabwe's local stores and its rival TM Supermarkets, in which South Africa's Pick n Pay owns 49 percent are the only places where locals can buy groceries at prices obtaining countrywide.

"Hazvizi bho king (It's not right)," added the streetwise taxi driver, shaking his head.

Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Priscah Mupfumira — who last year surpassed a tourism target of $1bn in earnings — agrees that tourist resorts are priced out of local residents' means, but said she was moving to address the problem.

She said government will concentrate on creating products for local tourists.

"A lot of our people don't enjoy our nature, our God-given experiences. There is the issue of pricing which we will be working on, especially our national parks," she said, adding focus will also be on promoting cultural tourism and cultural villages.

The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority predicts the tourism sector will grow by 20 percent this year amid an improvement in sentiment.

Zimbabwean officials have stated that the tourism sector has grown from a $200 million sector in 2009 to an over $1 billion industry now, but have also acknowledged that the country's economic challenges have led to the sector underperforming.

This comes as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) last year announced a $15 million revolving support facility intended for the tourism sector.

Funding has been a real issue in recent years — the absence of adequate long-term project financing has left the country's tourism industry with inadequate marketing infrastructure. However, like most of the country's key industries, insufficient funding has not been the tourism sector's only challenge.

Liquidity shortages since mid-2016 have beset the tourism industry. Ordinary citizens as well as international tourists are impacted.

While major tourism facilities and service providers are able to facilitate electronic payments, small curio and arts vendors remain among those most affected by the liquidity crunch, although recent monetary reforms are expected to buoy the sector.

Source - dailynews