Beyond the mighty Zambezi river, better known for its tourism highlights such as the Victoria Falls, also referred to as Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders), the artificial but very wild and particularly scenic lake Kariba, the walking and canoeing safari paradises on both shores of the lower Zambezi stretch, are two great hidden tourism destinations.
Both Zambia and Zimbabwe have fantastic and rather unspoiled tourism assets to offer the more discerning
visitor. Beyond the waterfalls are many unique game viewing areas such as the national parks of Kafue, Hwange, Liuwa Plain, Matusadona, Lower Zambezi, Mana Pools, South & North Luangwa, Gonarezhou, Bangweulu, Inyanga, to name but a few. The two destinations also boast a very rich cultural life which translates into both contemporary and historical highlights.
The tourism reality of both countries is absolutely related. One could say that beyond the Zambezi are two nations but only one tourism destination. Taking the concept further, it would make sense to include Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique in the concept … but, even though ideal, this might still be a little premature.
In August 2013 Zimbabwe and Zambia co-hosted the 20th session of the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly both in the towns of Livingstone and of Victoria Falls, a first big step towards recognizing this reality.
Since the session, the two countries have been implementing the KAZA Univisa project to ease tourist travel between the two nations. It was first implemented on a trial basis before rolling it out again in a scenario that has been sometimes both technically and emotionally challenged.
Visitors love the concept but reported hick-ups in its implementation such as not all borders being able – or sometimes willing – to issue the said visa, or that the supply of stickers was disrupted. If the actual cost of the visa – currently being USD 50 – doesn’t appear to be a serious break, tourists complained about the lengthy process in uncomfortable conditions … and in tourism we all know that you don’t want your guests to start with a bad impression as their first experience when visiting a country.
Ideally, similar to what Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda jointly implemented, visa should be booked online to allow a fast and smooth entry at all border posts.
In the current internet age, there is no real excuse as not to offer tourists the option to secure their KAZA «e-Univisa».
At this very end of May 2018, still acknowledging the reality of sharing just one large destination.
Both Zambia and Zimbabwe announced to have agreed the set-up of a joint committee for tourism.
This will coordinate marketing campaigns and deal with issues affecting the sector.
Provided lessons are learned, it is needless to look back at how past political and economic crises did affect the evolution and development of the tourism sector. Tourism is always challenged by a lack of stability, whether real or not, and it is each government’s responsibility to build trust in this regard. Both destinations are particularly safe, but it is achieving the perception of safety on top of that reality that really matters.
When it comes to Southern Africa, the dual Zambian and Zimbabwe destination of Victoria Falls has the potential to become one of the major hubs in tourism, second only to Cape Town.
Air accessibility has become a reality with the building and upgrading of both new runways and terminal buildings on both side of the Zambezi river. The number of airlines serving the destination is however still far too limited. If one excludes flights coming from Johannesburg, which also translates into a sort of «second rank» tourism destination dependency from South Africa, there are only two airlines – being Kenyan Airways and Ethiopian Airlines – currently feeding the region almost directly from the overseas markets.
Open skies are a
necessity to offer sound and lasting development options to airlines.
Similar to what Kenyan Airways does between Victoria Falls and Cape Town, it is essential for routes that make sense to be operated in a sustainable way. Being landlocked, the destinations also need reliable and affordable access to the warm Indian ocean waters. Accessibility of a destination is an essential key to success.
In terms of USP’s, both destinations offer a number of great assets beyond the Victoria Falls!
One of those assets is the excellence of the professional safari guide training in both countries. Experts in the field will agree that the vast majority of the best guides in Africa are from Zambia and Zimbabwe. This huge asset also allows one to drop the cage around visitors and take them for a stroll in the wild African bush or canoeing the rivers amidst its fantastic wildlife.
With its wildlife-rich shores, lake Kariba is another great asset which offers the unique option of a real safari cruise in Africa… game viewing, sports fishing, G&T sunsets… trying it is embracing it!
Last but not least, the cultural heritage, both historical and contemporary, is rather unique and completely untapped. At the level of wealth sharing, this is
probably one of the best avenues to directly benefit the population in both nations.
Many countries including the UAE are currently investigating tourism development options in both Zambia and Zimbabwe. The main focus obviously remains Victoria Falls with plans of Special Economic Areas to be defined and implemented, the underlying concept being to boost its development in a structured way. Widening the horizon to the other regions would probably pay off as well.
In March this year, Chinese investors expressed the desire to create a huge tourism city in Zimbabwe, ideally in the vicinity of Harare or Bulawayo. In light of such developments in other parts of the world, it is important for the hosting nation to ensure that the vases of wealth sharing and providing employment communicate well.
Overall, the potential of both destinations is pretty much untapped for those able to look beyond the «smoke» of the Victoria Falls.
Next time you are in the region, do yourself a favour… visit the Victoria Falls and combine it with one of these unique safari experiences Zambia and Zimbabwe have to offer!
Bruno VAN DEN BOSSCHE
Associated Director & Africa Specialist