African carrier, fastjet, is looking at launching flights between Cape Town, South Africa, and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Richard Bodin, fastjet’s Chief Operating Officer, told Tourism Update the route was still in the early phases and flights would be launched in the fourth quarter of this year at the earliest, although a later date was foreseeable.

According to Bodin, the airline’s routes from Johannesburg to Zimbabwe continue to see growth, especially its flights to Victoria Falls. The airline flies a double-daily service to Harare and to Victoria Falls three times a week. It also services Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar in Tanzania.

However, Bodin pointed out that, despite strong passenger demand, a strong dollar has negatively affected the airline’s revenue. As a result, it had trimmed down frequencies on marginal routes and there would be little in the way of new routes until next year, said Bodin. He added that there were other destinations the airline was contemplating for new routes, but declined to give details on these.

Source: Tourism Update
Published in News
Thursday, 04 February 2016 08:39

Victoria Falls to see recovery in 2016

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, experienced a 20% drop in tourist arrivals in 2015 compared with 2014 according to the Employers’ Association of Tourism and Safari Operators (EATSO). However, operators are confident that 2016 will be better, thanks in part to the new airport.

Clement Mukwasi, EATSO President, told Zimbabwe’s NewsDay the after effects of the Ebola virus and a tax on foreign tourists were the main causes of the drop.

Although tour operators and product owners have confirmed that tourism has been down, Africa Albida Tourism CE Ross Kennedy argues tourist arrivals to Zimbabwe and the Victoria Falls were not down 20%. "According to hotel statistics kept by ten leading hotels in Victoria Falls, room occupancy was only down 2% between 2014 and 2015, and entry numbers to the Victoria Falls Rainforest were down 2,6% year on year.

This article originally appeared on the Tourism Update website - See more at: http://www.tourismupdate.co.za/Home/Detail?articleId=106030#sthash.Ba8wOV1K.dpuf
Published in News
Wednesday, 04 December 2013 14:03

Chobe versus Hwange - exploring the pros and cons

Being a Zimbabwean myself and having grown up visiting places like Hwange regularly I tend to have a very strong allegiance to our own National Parks.  This you might say would render me not entirely objective in my ability to compare Chobe, Botswana with Hwange, Zimbabwe, two parks in similar proximity to Victoria Falls.  However, I did have the pleasure of co-managing (with my partner Suzanne) a large ground handling safari operation in the Chobe area for nearly two years in 2008 and 2009.  We were based in Kasane, had a fleet of 25 vehicles, 10 boats and 50+ staff underneath us and being the largest operation in the area we were intricately involved in Chobe’s safari and tourism industry.  And so, I believe as result of that experience, I am fairly well placed to give a balanced view of both parks.

Let me start by saying that both Chobe and Hwange are world renowned parks in their own right.  Between Chobe and Hwange the elephant density is said to be the largest in Africa with some estimates saying this could as high as 60,000 elephants.  In fact it is known that some elephants do indeed move between the parks crossing private safari or forestry areas that lie between them.  I am writing this article not so much to try and convince you the reader of which park is the ‘better’ one to visit.  I would prefer that the words stimulate your mind and help you make a decision that is best suited to your needs when you go on safari to this region.

Chobe National Park is approximately 1,5hrs drive west away from Victoria Falls.  It is probably Botswana’s second most popular safari destination after the Okavango Delta and covers an area of 11,700 square kilometres. To get there one can take a transfer bus from your hotel in Livingstone, Zambia or Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.  Going from Zambia means that you need to get on a boat to cross the Zambezi, where four countries meet (one of only two places in the world where this occurs) i.e. Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia (the eastern most tip of the Caprivi strip).  Travelling from Zimbabwe means a land crossing at the Zimbabwe/Botswana border in Kazungula.  Both routes lead you to Kasane town (just outside Chobe NP) where there are numerous hotels and lodges.  There is only one lodge in Chobe National Park itself.  There are a number of safari companies based in Kasane that offer game drives and river cruises into Chobe.  Practically all of these operators concentrate their game drives or boat cruises along a 20km stretch of the north eastern part of the park that borders with the Chobe river and Namibia.  As there are no significant waterholes inland you find that the game concentrates in this area due to the life giving waters of the river.  The frequency and variety of good game sightings here is phenomenal and what makes a visit to Chobe so attractive.  The downside is that all the vehicles and boats are concentrating in this relatively small area, so chances are that you will share your sightings with quite a few other people.  Kasane operators have mainly capitalised, over the years, on the day trip market from Victoria Falls and Livingstone.  Whilst there are various accommodation options the bulk of travellers come into Chobe for a 2,5-3hr game drive in the morning , followed by lunch at one of the hotels and then a 2,5-3hr boat cruise in the afternoon before heading back across the border again.  This makes the experience somewhat mass market oriented and the quality of guiding can be affected as a result.  Walking is also a distinct rarity in Chobe.

Hwange National Park is approximately 1,5hrs drive south away from Victoria Falls town in Zimbabwe.   It is one of Zimbabwe’s premier safari areas and covers an area in excess of 14,600 square kilometres.  To get there one can take a transfer bus from Victoria Falls to Hwange Main Camp on wide tar roads.  At Hwange Main camp most people are then collected in a 4×4 game drive vehicle from the lodge or camp that they are going to stay at in the park.  At the moment there are still only a few people that do a day trip to Hwange and tour operators prefer to build this park into a package with at least two nights (preferably three) spent here.  Hwange does not have any major rivers running through or bordering the park.  To compensate for this the park has a number of man made waterholes that are pumped with borehole water using a combination of diesel, solar and wind pumps.  The diesel pumps do make a knocking noise that can detract from the peaceful surroundings a little.  The beauty though of having scattered waterholes all over the park plus a wide road network means that traffic in the park is well dispersed over a very large area.  Most camps and lodges are also located on their own private concessions meaning that when you stay at them you are unlikely to see many people other than those in camp.  Game drives do sometimes go over the borders of the concessions into public parts of the park, but as mentioned above the scattered waterholes and wide route network manages traffic well.  Zimbabwe is renowned for its excellent guiding (it takes at least 4 years to become a professional) and Hwange is no exception.  Each camp or lodge typically has at least one professional guide in residence.  Learner guides are also very knowledgeable and eligible to take game drives.  Aside from game drives the opportunity to walk in Hwange is something not to be missed.

So in closing let’s look at the main pros and cons from each park again:

CHOBE

Pros

  • Easily reachable from Victoria Falls
  • Offers both a water based and land based safari experience
  • Conveniently set up to cater for day trippers
  • Excellent wildlife sightings even for day trippers, with excellent chances of seeing big game, including elephant, cheetah, lion and leopard
  • Those that are able to stay in Chobe for longer than a day may be rewarded in that their game drives and boat cruises may be less congested as they are in the park at a different time to the day trippers.
Cons

  • Limited route network for game drives
  • Game drives and boat cruises are operated in a small area of the park
  • Somewhat mass market safari tourism
  • Guiding abilities may not be as good as elsewhere in southern Africa
  • Only one lodge located in the park itself
HWANGE

Pros

  • Excellent road route network that manages traffic well
  • Well positioned waterholes that have excellent game viewing
  • A variety of fantastic camps and lodges catering for all budgets
  • Excellent learner and professional guides that ensure a memorable and personal safari experience.
  • Superb opportunities to walk in the park with a professional guide
Cons

  • Diesel pumps at some waterholes can hinder the peace
  • Not ideally geared for day trippers from Victoria Falls
  • Limited to a land based safari experience only
  • A day trip to Hwange may not yield as high a number of big game sightings
For more updates from Vayeni:

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Published in News
Sunday, 01 December 2013 07:40

Falling for the Falls

As written for the official 2014 Discover Zimbabwe magazine, p.34-38.

As they rounded a bend in the wide river, up ahead a cloud rose from the horizon.   With each glide forward the misty whiteness filled up more and more of the natural frame set in front of them.  A sound, similar to waves crashing on a beach at night, grew louder with each paddle stroke.  By now there was no mistaking “Mosi-oa-Tunya.” Years of exploring together, countless new experiences and indelible memories could not have prepared them for this.  They carefully negotiated the swifter flow of the current, just metres above the approaching drop off, safely mooring their dug-out canoes on an island near the centre of the river.  Livingstone walked to the abyss, lay down and stuck his head over the edge.


One can only begin to imagine what Scottish missionary explorer, Dr. David Livingstone, his close companions, Sussi and Chuma, along with their team of explorers must have felt, as these minutes unfolded on the 16th of November 1855.  The emotions must have been mixed for Livingstone himself, who was hoping to find an easy shipping route for Africa’s rich interior resources via a large river to the coast and in so doing help fulfil his dream to abolish slavery.  The sight of a huge obstacle must have created some disappointment, but this would have been overshadowed by its beauty.  Today, only a century and a half later, millions of people from around the globe flock to see Victoria Falls for themselves, a site that has rightfully been internationally declared as a natural world wonder and heritage site and an area that is now easily accessible by land, rail and air.  In fact the ease-of-access is increasingly being improved, as airports in the vicinity are undergoing upgrades with the ability to cope with higher passenger numbers and larger long-haul aircraft.

“Scenes so lovely they must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight”

As Livingstone lay there peering into the deep chasm he proclaimed his now famous statement: “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” Nowadays flights at regular intervals above the falls in a helicopter or micro light make it possible for us to see what the angels held as their privilege alone.  Victoria Falls is the world’s largest falling curtain of water, stretching over 1.7 kilometres in width and in excess of 100 metres at the highest point.

Mosi-oa-Tunya or “The Smoke that Thunders” forms the epicentre of a wider wilderness area, a natural network of protected water systems and national parks, destined to become part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA), the world’s largest conservation area, which includes thousands of square kilometres of land within the Okavango and Zambezi river basins.  You only have to take a stroll through the rainforest, opposite the descending wall of water, that is created solely through the spray of the Falls, to appreciate that nature’s energy resonates sharply from this point outwards.

“Below the Falls the Zambezi shrinks visibly to a tenth of its size as it is forced to squeeze through a narrow series of zigzagging gorges.  The river’s response to this restriction is one of ferocity.”

The exciting exploits of Livingstone and his crew reached their peak upon discovery of the Falls and are echoed in the present day with the destination being labelled “Africa’s adventure capital”.  The spirit of exploration, adrenaline and ‘venturing into the unknown’ that were endured all those years ago now form part of the diverse range of activities offered by tourism operators based in the area.  Perhaps the most famous of these is white-water rafting.  Below the Falls the Zambezi shrinks visibly to a tenth of its size as it is forced to squeeze through a narrow series of zigzagging gorges.  The river’s response to this restriction is one of ferocity.   Grade five rapids and fast moving water, interspersed by short sections of ‘flat-water-respite’ characterise one of the world’s best commercially operated rafting areas.   Above the first gorge, downstream of the falls, the iron bridge, now over a century old, links Zimbabwe and its northern neighbour Zambia.  At the point where the two countries meet on the bridge you can take a leap of faith attached to a bungee cord.  Or travel along the side of the gorge, just a short distance from the bridge, and you can jump off the side, fall until a rope catches you and then swing out at high speed.  Linked to this activity is an intricate system of other adrenaline based steel cable tours that allow you to experience different views of the gorge and surrounding landscape.  For those looking for adventure, but not necessarily one of a heart-stopping kind, there are plenty of other activities on offer, the most serene of which is probably a gentle river cruise aboard a much bigger craft than Livingstone’s crew would have been in, but you will follow a similar route and see the same breathtaking view of white mist rising that they did upon rounding that wide bend in the river.  This is also a wildlife area so chances of seeing elephants, hippos and crocodiles are very high and if you want the experience of the Falls, but also want a safari component then there are lodges in the Zambezi National Park, where good concentrations of game are located, only 20 minutes drive away from the Falls themselves.

“The Falls, first exposed to the world through Livingstone’s finding, and then delicately preserved to the present day, are a sweet and pure elixir.”

Two bold statues of Livingstone stand overlooking the Falls, one on either end.  The island in the middle of the river, where Livingstone got his first real glimpse of the Falls, has now been named after him, but in the interests of conservation no permanent structure has been erected on it, a decision that will hopefully endure.  The Falls, first exposed to the world through Livingstone’s finding, and then delicately preserved to the present day, are a sweet and pure elixir.  One trusts that all future cohorts coming forth to witness them, in ever growing numbers, will have the same unrefined experience of one of nature’s finest gifts that the last five generations have had.

For more updates from Zimbabwe:

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Published in News
Thursday, 28 November 2013 19:07

Why you should visit Zimbabwe

Written by Luke Brown, Vayeni Director

When Suzanne and I travel the world and tell people that Zimbabwe’s tourism is on the rise and that it’s at the beginning of a boom, almost everyone we speak to is shocked and surprised at first.  The fact is that most people out there think that Zimbabwe is somehow in reverse as a destination.  This is certainly not the case when it comes to tourism and its only when we show people pictures and video clips of the country, often with us in them that they start to believe.

Think Zimbabwe and draw up a 7 point list of things that come to mind! You may come up with a whole lot of things and more than likely there wont be the word holiday on either your own or most others’ lists.  So why then should you be convinced otherwise?  Here are 7 good ‘myth busting’ reasons why you should be putting ‘holiday’ right at the very top of the list when you think of Zimbabwe.

1. Peaceful, intelligent people with a ‘special smile’ philosophy that is infectious

How wrongly portrayed across the world are we as an unsafe destination?  Zimbabweans on the whole are peace loving people with the highest literacy rate in Africa that simply adds to their already innate intelligence.  It is part of a Zimbabwean’s nature to endure good times and tough times with the same ‘special smile’ approach to all they do.  This is ‘special smile’ philosophy is embodied in daily lives that are more often spent appreciating what one has and focusing on the good things, as opposed to whining and whinging about any negative aspects of life here in Zim.  That ‘special smile’ ability I’m saying Zimbabweans possess is infectious when people visit the country.  So much so that I’ll bet you that, almost invariably, anyone who visits Zimbabwe for the first time will arrive with caution, but leave with a piece of that philosophy in their hearts. We see it time and again with our international guests that come here for the first time with trepidation and leave as totally different people that have a new outlook on life.

2. Internationally accessible and domestically flyable

We don’t have a Heathrow/JFK or an Easy Jet, yet, but the quality of our airports has been maintained and improved to cater for rising numbers.  Harare International Airport is a modern, clean and efficient point of entry.  Bulawayo’s new Joshua Nkomo international terminal has just been opened.  Victoria Falls International Airport will have a new terminal and an extended runway by 2015.  Emirates have increased their Harare flights to seven days a week and put on a bigger aircraft to service the route.  I’ve just flown on Emirates into and out of Harare twice in the last month and it was a joy.  KLM, Kenyan, Ethiopian, SAA, BA Comair all fly in frequently, some twice a day.  Our national airline, Air Zimbabwe, not without its challenges, is making every effort to meet world class standards with its new local and regional services.  Modern embraer aircrafts service the Harare-Bulawayo and Harare-Vic Falls legs daily.  Privately owned charter companies continue to fill the gaps and also service most of the popular routes with affordable ‘seat-in-plane’ rates.  You can even charter a really fancy new Helicopter called a Eurocopter to fly around the country in.

3. Navigable on the ground & communication/technology friendly

Once you are here you’ll be able to move around with relative ease.  The road from Mutare through Harare to Bulawayo and on to Plumtree has nearly been completely resurfaced to first world standards.  It’s as good as any main road in South Africa.  Other main roads are following suit, but, even as they are currently, remain completely navigable wide tarred roads suitable to all types of vehicle including two wheel drive hatchbacks.  Rental car companies are competing for business where they haven’t done so before.  Fuel stations are plentiful, most shops and venues accept credit cards and have shelves full of internationally recognized and well priced items. New maps are readily available, google maps and navigation devices all work here. Cellphone signal is accessible in almost every corner of the country along with data capability with 4G connections now possible in Harare and Victoria Falls. Police road blocks are frequent, but it is a very rare occasion if you are not waved on through and if you are stopped at all you will most likely encounter that ‘special smile’ we spoke about earlier.  If you are not into driving yourself around then there are a wide choice of bus services available, some of which have an excellent on board service including teas, coffees and entertainment.

4. Incredibly diverse offerings from varied landscapes to shopping to culture

Aside from not having an ocean on one of its boundaries or a mountain to ski on there is not much else that Zimbabwe can’t offer. Victoria Falls of course tops the list of things to see, but the idea that it ends with that is completely false.  Hwange, Gonarezhou and Mana Pools are big game areas offering incredible safari opportunities where one can get regular up close encounters with animals like lion, elephant, wild dog and leopard.  Lake Kariba is a slightly softer safari destination, but what you might lose in game sightings you gain in vistas, fishing paradises, birding hot spots and ultra-relaxation, whether in a lodge on the lake shore or on one of the many houseboats available.  Great Zimbabwe and the Matobo Hills are cultural world heritage sites for good reason.  Great Zimbabwe contains the largest ancient city ruins south of the pyramids in Africa.  Matobo Hills is a mystical and natural rock kingdom that has been the meeting point of cultures for centuries and remains a spiritual, environmental and geological area of distinct significance.  Visit Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands and you won’t believe the change in scenery.  Alpine type landscapes exist in parts, whilst other areas are dominated by thick forests with tall canopies.  There are many hiking trails, lakes to trout fish in and there are even some really challenging golf courses to play on, the finest of these being Leopard Rock in the Vumba, although my personal favourite is still Troutbeck in Nyanga.  Talking of golf courses: Royal Harare, Chapman Harare, Elephant Hills Vic Falls and the course at Triangle in the loweveld are all MUST plays.  Back to the highlands – above all, the far reaching views among the fresh water streams, that stretch from the mountains across the lower lands are the most rewarding element.  Zimbabwe’s two main cities, Harare and Bulawayo offer up many activities too, ranging from great places to eat out, shopping malls to sample, traditional markets to explore, as well as specialist craft and curios centres, all of which are tasteful and un-contrived.

5. Great accommodation, great products and on top of this these are both conservation and community focused

To compliment the vast array of diverse and accessible landscapes are a multitude of world class venues from Hotels and resorts to boutique lodges and B&Bs.  The amount of investment going on in the accommodation sector is amazing.  There are at least seven new lodges in Hwange.  Major hotels in Harare are being planned and existing ones are being refurbished, some to the tune of millions of dollars.  In Victoria Falls, Gonarezhou, Matobo Hills, Mana Pools and Kariba it’s the same story.  And its not only accommodation that is getting attention.  There are new sunset cruise boats in Victoria Falls designed specifically with the modern traveller in mind, as well as new road networks in Gonarezhou.  Zimbabweans are mindful about the environment and this is why you will find a sustainable and green ethos being widely adopted.  One of our biggest resources is a our wildlife and how this relates to community.  That is why initiatives like Friends of Hwange, the Tashinga Initiative, the Malilangwe Trust and many many more are being driven on the ground by locals and get so much support regionally and internationally.  Clive Stockil recently won the inaugural “Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa,” presented to him in London by Prince William.  He competed with the best in Africa to top the list.  What does that tell you about how seriously Zimbabweans are about conservation,community and sustainability?

6. Affordable

Zimbabwe is certainly not the world’s cheapest country to visit on holiday, but it’s by far not the most expensive either.  In fact, since we adopted the Unites States Dollar, it probably averages out somewhere in the middle.  There is space for all budgets here.  In Harare, for example, when you go out for a cappuccino you’ll probably pay USD$2.- and you’ll get a slice of cheesecake with that for an extra $4.-  You’ll pay $2-3.- for a 330ml beer of which there is a large variety of decent local and international lagers to choose from.  On average a main course at a restaurant will cost about $20.- And the places you’ll find to wine and dine in are plentiful and tastefully appointed, especially in Harare and Victoria Falls, although Bulawayo has some great spots too.  The average B&B rate for a night’s stay in a really good hotel or boutique guest house ranges from $150.- to $200.-  If you are staying in a lodge the packages are typically all inclusive of meals, local drinks and two activities per day and this will often cost you somewhere between $300.- and $400.- per person per night sharing for an upmarket experience.  Compare that with some of our neighboring countries.

7. Superb service

This goes hand in hand with the first point above.  Zimbabweans by nature are fantastic hosts.  You’ll almost invariably find that nothing is too much trouble for them.  Whether you are arriving at Harare International, catching a bus, bargaining at a craft market or climbing aboard a helicopter to fly above the falls that special smile is likely to greet you!

Check out our social media links below to follow the continuously unfolding story about Zimbabwe’s flowering tourism and don’t forget to put ‘holiday’ at the top of your list when you think Zimbabwe.

Twitter: @lukebrownzim, @vayenitravel

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vayenitravel?fref=ts

LinkedIn: zw.linkedin.com/in/lukebrown/

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