from DANIEL JONES in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
VICTORIA FALLS, (CAJ News) – THE policy by Zimbabwe to attract international conferences to boost tourism is proving a double-edged sword.
While the Meetings, Incentives, Conference and Exhibitions (MICE) policy is bearing fruit, the country’s tourism sector is struggling to meet demand, especially for accommodation.
Last week’s Transform Africa Summit, held in Victoria Falls exposed the deficit.
Around 4 000 delegates from close to 100 countries attended. These included five heads of state and 44 ministers.
The summit ended on Friday, which coincided with the start of the Victoria Falls Carnival, also attracting thousands.
Having several heads of state at the same time in the city proved a challenge in terms of availability of presidential lodgings.
As a result, host president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and Paul Kagame of Rwanda flew back to Zimbabwe’s capital Harare soon after officiating. Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia drove to Livingstone in his country.
Only Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi and Eswatini’s King Mswati III spent the night in Victoria Falls.
The 4 000 delegates could also not be accommodated in mainstream hotels and lodges. Spillovers especially locals sought accommodation in private homes as shortage of hotel rooms exposed the need to invest in hotel facilities.
Despite being Zimbabwe’s tourism capital and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls only has two five-star hotels, namely the Victoria Falls Hotel and Palm River Hotel.
Zimbabwe has a total room capacity of just over 6 000 rooms. Victoria Falls has around 2 000 rooms.
Hospitality authorities have said the country needs an estimated 20 000 rooms by 2030 to match tourism growth.
There is also a shortage of conference facilities in Victoria Falls. The biggest conference room at Elephant Hills Hotel takes less than 600 people.
The exit of Kingdom Hotel early in the year exposed the city as the casino conference centre at the facility was the biggest in the city, taking 900 guests.
Farai Chimba, the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) president, said, “Zimbabwe has a huge deficit of rooms. Current stock remains very low.”
Winnie Muchanyuka, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) chief executive, also expressed concern about the lack of big conference facilities.
Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu, said the government is encouraging the private sector to invest in tourism infrastructure.
“We can only see a shortage of rooms in the country and here in Victoria Falls when there is demand for those rooms,” Ndlovu said.
“We need to have a discussion with industry and see how we can increase the number of rooms we are looking at, especially the increasing number of international business conferences that are coming into Zimbabwe and more importantly into Victoria Falls,” Ndlovu added.
Despite the challenge of facilities, the minister welcomed the revival of the MICE sector.
“Zimbabwe is fast becoming a conference destination of choice both locally and internationally,” Ndlovu said.
– CAJ News