The splendour associated with the Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, can never be understated. The Victoria Falls is undoubtedly the prime tourist destination in Zimbabwe.
While thousands of tourists continue to pour into Victoria Falls to view the majestic Mosi-oa-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders), its related activities have been on the rise.
The elephant walks, bush dinners, bungee jumping, wildlife tours and others are among the packages that draw tourists to Victoria Falls. Boat cruises have become a major hit with tourists visiting Victoria Falls and operators reportedly had to increase and upgrade their fleets.
The cruises, especially the popular sunset cruise, usually has more than 40 boats laden with tourists taking in the spectacle as the sun sinks to close yet another splendid day. According to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, there are 11 companies running cruises along the Zambezi River.
Furthermore, people enjoying the cruises can reach 1 445 at a go. The more than 30 boats hit the waters, either, for the breakfast cruise (6am to 8:30am), lunch cruise (12pm to 2:30pm), sunset cruise (4pm to 6.30pm) and the evening, sunset and dinner cruise (5pm -9pm).
Described by the Wild Horizon, a leading tour operator in Victoria Falls, as a superb way to relax and enjoy the beauty of the river, a boat cruise after a day of activities is the deal for tourists.
“Clients having the opportunity to see a variety of game; including hippo, crocodile and elephants. Added to that there is a variety of bird species to watch and admire. The epitomic cruise could be the sunset cruise with a package including finger snacks, beer, wine, local spirits and soft drinks.
“The cruises also come with great photo opportunities against often-spectacular African sunsets.”
The Wild Horizons runs the Zambezi Royal offering the “discerning tourist a unique and intimate way to view the Zambezi River”.
The single level vessel allows guests to get up close to game and bird life along the Zambezi River’s shores. Tourists on the Zambezi Royal have testified of enjoying an opulent river safari without losing the excitement of cruising along Africa’s fourth largest river.
The Ra-Ikane also offers a cruise boat on boats representing the grace of a bygone era while honouring the rich history of Victoria Falls and its explorers, adventurers and heroes. The fleet was built to ensure that each guest is able to experience the wild beauty of the Zambezi River with ease and style.
In acknowledging the tourist attraction, ZTA head of corporate affairs Mr Sugar Chagonda said the Upper Zambezi had seen a rapid growth in boat cruise operations in the last five years with the introduction of a number of luxury boats.
“Presumably the third popular activity after viewing of the majestic Victoria Falls from both land and air, operators in the Zambezi River offer daily cruises ranging from sunrise breakfast excursions to delicious lunch adventures, sunset spectacles and dining under stars. There are five-star VIP, weddings and conferencing,” he said.
Mr Chagonda said the sunset cruise had gained popularity and it has become a must-do activity for every visitor to Victoria Falls.
“There is a guaranteed warm hospitality from the professional guides and captains as people relax while experiencing the flora and fauna of the mighty Zambezi.
“One may be fortunate enough to witness the great African elephant swimming from island to island, grazing or dusting themselves on the riverbanks. Cruising on the Zambezi River is a definite must on any trip to Victoria Falls.”
The cruise begins with a safety briefing shortly after launching and then, typically, journeys up river towards the Zambezi National Park. All boats are equipped with safety measures in the event of an accident though none have been used to date.
Mr Chagonda said people are attracted to Victoria Falls because it has the best weather in the world besides being home to one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Shearwater public relations and communications manager Mr Clement Mukwasi said the boat cruises had become the only activities of high turnover of repeat clients.
“Tourists who have gone on a boat cruise will always want to have another go no matter how many times they have been on the adventure.
“Cruises are not high adrenalin activities and accommodate families, from the youngest child to the oldest person in the family. They are also highly interactive in that they are educational in addition to the trip.”
Mr Mukwasi the boat cruises are environmentally very friendly to visitors coming to Zimbabwe.
“People from all walks of life find pleasure in the boat cruises and the most important thing is that it is an activity in the marketing zone without conflict.
“Companies who offer the package do not market cruises outside Zimbabwe as individuals but as a collective unit using a combined approach to lure visitors to Zimbabwe,” he said.
Boat cruises have also been accident free since they were launched.
“Boat cruises go with a little munch and unlimited drink,” Mr Mukwasi said.
According to statistics released by the ZTA early this year, Zimbabwe recorded a nine percent increase in tourist arrivals last year to 2 million. These were largely driven by African visitors who pass through Zimbabwe.
ZTA chief executive Mr Karikoga Kaseke said in 2014, Zimbabwe received 1,8 million visitors. The visitors increased by nine percent in 2015 and was slightly more than two million tourists.
Africa has contributed 1,76 million, Americas 76 751, Asia 35 000, Europe 149 000, Middle East 3 990 and Oceania 25 000 from 26 000 of visitors coming to Zimbabwe in 2014. This is because the visitors have an average expenditure of $1 600 person per visit while African visitors spend on average $150 per person per visit. Zimbabwe’s tourism receipts also grew from about $500 million in 2009 to about $827 million in 2014.
In terms of regional market share, South Africa receives the largest chunk at 42 percent, Botswana and Mozambique 9 percent each, Angola and Zimbabwe 8 percent each, Swaziland and Tanzania 5 percent each, Malawi and Zambia 4 percent each, Angola 3 percent, Lesotho 2 percent and DRC 1 percent.
Globally, Africa recorded a 3 percent drop to 53 million international tourist arrivals in 2015, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
According to the UNWTO Tourism Barometer, the North African region, at 8 percent, accounted for the biggest drop in arrivals on the continent while sub-Saharan Africa recorded a 1 percent decrease.
The drop in arrivals in North Africa was likely influenced by disturbances in the region and a ban on international flights to Egypt in the last quarter of the year by countries such as Russia and Britain after a plane carrying tourists crashed.
The UNWTO, however, anticipated a rebound, registering a growth of between 2 and 5 percent in arrivals. Despite the slump registered in Africa, overall international tourist arrivals surged 4,4 percent to 1,2 billion in 2015.
Zimbabwe boasts warm and hospitable people, pristine wildlife and nature, it is also home to the BIG Five and is home to fourth largest river, the Zambezi, in Africa.
Among its tourist attractions is the world’s fourth highest waterfall, the Matarazi Falls and boasts of a rich history and heritage while it has one of the largest man-made inland dams, Lake Kariba.
Meanwhile, besides hosting the Crete2Cape Vintage Air Rally next week, Victoria Falls has a number of activities for the festive season. These include Christmas dinners, lunches and New Bash by the various hotels in the resort town.
Most facilities will also host Christmas Carols by Candle Light including children programmes during the period. The biggest event will, however, be the Victoria Falls Carnival to be held from December 29, 2016 to January 1, 2017.
By Sydney Kawadza (The Herald)