Smoke starts thundering
Share this article:
Johannesburg - By the end of this year, the tourism landscape of southern Africa is going to start changing – and drastically.
That’s the target completion date for the new runway at the Victoria Falls airport in Zimbabwe. The new terminal buildings are set to come on stream in July next year.
Now, cynical, self-absorbed South Africans may look surprised or even chuckle a bit at the statement above – but let’s just think about what is happening to the tourism industry around us.
Ross Kennedy, head man at Zimbabwe’s African Albida Tourism company, spoke last week to agents and media people in Johannesburg about the Original Zimbabwe group, which is a collection of property owners (including Joburg-headquartered Wilderness Safaris) which have got together to promote tourism in Zimbabwe. It made for a thought-provoking evening.
Kennedy said that once the runaway is operational, Victoria Falls will be able to accommodate wide-body, long-range passenger aircraft. And, he went further to say, that a number of international carriers, including British Airways, our own South African Airways, Kenya Airways and Gulf companies like Emirates and Etihad, are in preliminary discussions about opening routes to the Falls.
This means not only that the amount of tourists to the World Heritage site will mushroom, but it also has implications for us in South Africa.
Kennedy pointed out that Victoria Falls will no longer be merely a destination in and of itself. It will be a hub for tourism in the whole of southern Africa.
It is a convenient jumping off point not only for destinations in Zimbabwe, but also those in Zambia and Botswana and, slightly further afield, Namibia and – who knows, maybe one day, Angola?
The Zimbabwean and Zambian authorities have already put into operation a joint visa arrangement (US$50) for foreign visitors (although SADC citizens still need no visa).
Once this visa system is expanded to Botswana and Namibia, the numbers visiting these countries via Victoria Falls will boom.
Given that we in South Africa are moving to make immigration and visa requirements more onerous, it is not that difficult to see our neighbours eating our lunch in the tourism sector.
Our neighbours have as much (and often more) than we have to offer in terms of a wildlife experience. Most are considered safer, albeit their prices are higher and infrastructure is not as good as ours.
Kennedy was also straightforward and honest about one of the biggest deterrents to inbound tourism from South Africa – the nightmare that is the Beitbridge border post.
Kennedy pointed out, quite correctly, that the horrendous delays frequently experienced there were not solely due to one country.
That echoes what I have heard from family and friends – that the South African side of the border at Beitbridge is chaotic and orderly queuing does not exist.
Until that mess gets better – and I don’t think it will in the short or medium term because of the huge growth in cross-border traffic – I can’t see myself using Beitbridge.
A better option? Drive through Botswana and into Zimbabwe via the Plumtree border post...