Tourist arrivals in Zimbabwe will end the year at a record 2.7 million, after a boom in the traditionally slow first half and increased traffic via the new Victoria Falls Airport gave leading operators their “best year ever”.
Arrivals in the first quarter, which is usually a low business period for the industry, was up by 50%, according to Government data, corroborated by leading private players such as Africa Albida, which says occupancy at its facilities is at its highest ever level.
“We expect to end the year with 2.7 million visitors to Zimbabwe as hotel occupancy levels in major resorts such as Victoria Falls are now over 80%. We are working to attract more investors to build more hotels in order to sustain increased business levels and meet demand for hotel rooms,” says Tourism Minister Prisca Mupfumira.
This would be higher than the 2.25 million visitors reached in 1999, Mupfumira said. Tourism was one of Zimbabwe’s major industries, but it collapsed after violent land takeovers and elections kept visitors from traditional source markets in Europe and North America away.
Africa Albida says occupancy at its flagship operation, the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, was 81.5% in the year to September, up from 71.7% over the same period last year, according to company PR Marianne Betts. The facility had experienced its busiest August ever, with occupancy of 88%. Occupancy across ten hotels in the town rose from 53.6% to 58.7% year-on-year,
Company CEO Ross Kennedy attributed the growth to the expansion of Victoria Falls International Airport. “The new Victoria Falls Airport, with its geographical hub location, plus much enhanced route access and connectivity, has played a part in the growth of the destination”.
This year, all major tourism operators reported a strong first half year.
Africa Sun, in its results for the first half, reported “remarkable increase in volumes across the hotels”, as its city hotels benefitted from elections while its Victoria Falls operations “benefited from increased foreign arrivals”.
Occupancy level increased 10 percentage points to 55 percent in the first half. International arrivals rose by an average of 15%. The company is betting on infrastructure projects, such as the upgrade of the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport and the Beitbridge highway for further recovery.
Patrick Matute, MD of Dawn Properties, owner of the facilities operated by African Sun, said of the half year: “Trading conditions improved significantly for our tenant AfricanSun, with a better than expected performance in what is traditionally their low peak period”.
Hotel operator Brainworks saw its occupancy rates rising 20% in the first half of this year, attributed by CEO Brett Childs to the change of president last year and the new airport at Vic Falls.
According to Wilderness Safaris, forward bookings from North America, Europe and the UK grew this year, as did demand for longer itineraries in the safari areas.
While Zimbabwe’s tourism sector was in crisis, facilities fell behind other markets on quality. Companies are now looking to invest in building new tour facilities or renovating existing ones.
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