Zimbabwe opens its arms to meetings and incentive travellers

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Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls

By Delina Alwanger

As a destination for meetings and incentive travel, the southern African country of Zimbabwe is in a state of evolution. The successful hosting of the UNWTO General Assembly in 2013 was the catalyst which put the country back on to the world’s radar. However, with the growing threat of terrorism in many countries today, it is the relative safety and low risk of terrorist activity which is arguably Zimbabwe’s biggest competitive advantage.

According to GBTA Foundation’s latest study, terrorism is the number one travel risk in the world today. In an increasingly unsafe world, the risk profile of a destination is crucial in the decision-making process for buyers and planners. Zimbabwe and southern Africa is regarded as a safe region as a whole. Admittedly, socio-economic problems and a recent financial crisis have somewhat tarnished the brand in recent years but the country has remained a safe destination for international travellers.

World of wonders

Victoria Falls has always been this country’s claim to fame, and rightly so. This iconic landmark is a UNESCO World Heritage site; one of the Seven Wonders of the World and the biggest waterfall on the planet. It comes as no surprise that the leisure market is recording strong growth. The commissioning of the new Vic Falls International airport [VFA] in 2016 opened doors for new routes and airlines. Already in 2017 Ethiopian Airlines, RwandAir and Kenya Airways have added routes to Zimbabwe. The popular LCC, Fastjet already links Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Those carriers traditionally servicing Vic Falls out of South Africa have increased their capacity to meet the increased demand.

To complement this improved accessibility, the KAZA Univisa has recently been reintroduced. This is a partnership between Zambia and Zimbabwe which offers a $50 multiple entry visa to 40 countries, among them the USA and Canada. The visa is available at the ports of entry upon arrival and allows free movement between Zambia and Zimbabwe for 30 days and is accepted Botswana for day trips.  Incentive planners will appreciate the obvious advantage conferred by the KAZA visa.

Year-round destination

With sunshine every day of the year, Zimbabwe is an all-year destination. Apart from the regular cycles of drought, the country suffers no extreme weather events. Winters are dry and cool and summers are hot. The annual rainy season lasts from November to March. That said, seasonality is not a critical factor in pricing. Many properties publish steady rates for a full calendar year making budgeting that much easier.

On the topic of budgets it is important to note that the United States dollar is legal tender in this country. Credit card facilities are not widespread so it is always advisable to carry cash in small denominations. International travellers can carry $1,000 in cash without declaration. Amounts above this threshold require declaration upon arrival. It should also be noted that a Value Added Tax of 15 per cent is levied on accommodation for international clients. This tax and the two-per-cent Tourism levy will often be included in rack rates.

From camping to glamping

Accommodation options vary from budget campsites to exclusive luxury tented camps. For the C-Suite where privacy, luxury and personal service are imperatives, Imvelo Safari lodges offer great options to link a Vic Falls property with a Hwange property. Little Gorges tented lodge is a Vic Falls property comprising five luxury tents built on wooden decks overlooking the Batoka gorge where the Dibu Dibu River meets the Zambezi River. The property overlooks the cliff faces where black eagles and falcons nest. This property can be combined with Camelthorn lodge on Ngamo Plains in Hwange National Park. Transfers between Vic Falls can be done by road but Imvelo has pioneered a novel transfer via the Elephant Express railcar. Clients have an opportunity to see game as they travel through the national park. Once at Camelthorn clients have the privilege of doing a pump run with staff where the borehole pumps are checked and maintained to keep Hwange’s wildlife watered.  Imvelo’s all inclusive rates cover food, drink, activities and laundry.

The Imvelo group has ongoing CSR and conservation campaigns aimed at creating employment in local communities, supporting education for village children and safeguarding the country’s wildlife heritage. Clients are encouraged to visit the local schools and villages to participate in these programmes.

Steeped in history

Zimbabwe Victoria Falls Hotel

If you are after a traditional hotel setting then the Victoria Falls Hotel is a good choice.  Affectionately known as the “grand old lady” of the falls, this property is steeped in history. It was built in 1904 and exudes colonial charm. It has 161 rooms and two conference rooms. Vic Falls offers a range of accommodation to suit every price point.

When it comes to activities on offer, planners are well advised to work only with registered, qualified operators. Adventure Zone, based in the town, is a long established activity operator. In fact, they are the ground handler for the recently established Bear Grylls’ Academy. Adventure Zone offers an Amazing Race, African style, which has proven popular among Incentive groups. An extensive menu of adrenaline activities include: Canoeing; white water rafting; crocodile diving; elephant interaction; gorge swing; zipline and the famed bunjee jump off the Vic Falls bridge. Adequate travel and medical insurance is a mandatory prerequisite for adventure activities.

Lake Kariba, covering 5,000 square kilometres, is a haven for boating and fishing. A multitude of houseboats can accommodate groups from six to 50 passengers. The biggest vessel on the lake is the Zambezi Trader. This boat is available out of Kariba or Binga and will cruise the lake docking in a different place each night. Clients have access to small tender boats to fish for the freshwater species of tigerfish, bream, vundu and barbel. Houseboat rates are quoted on a dry- or wet boat basis. It is advisable to book on a wet boat basis which includes fuel for both the main boat and tenders.

Safaris abound

Zimbabwe safari

Along the lower Zambezi long established canoeing operator, Natureways, offers both canoeing and walking safaris in Mana pools National Park. Clients have the option of two types of Safari experiences. Explorer Safaris are expeditionary style canoe safaris that are self contained and semi-participatory. Odyssey Safaris offer guests an authentic African experience with touches of comfort and luxury.

For an off-the-grid, rustic, wilderness experience, planners have the option of National Parks.  Umfurudzi National Park covers an area of 760 square kilometres. It is easily accessible from the capital Harare by road. Accommodation is available in campsites, chalets and permanent tented sites. Zimbabwe is home to many parks run by the National Parks authority whose mandate it is to protect the country’s wildlife heritage. Another iconic national park is Gonarezhou, located along the south eastern border with Mozambique. This rugged and remote wilderness area is home to lions, cheetahs, wild dog, hyena, buffalo, hippo, giraffe and, of course, elephants after whom the park is named.

A pleasant surprise

According to the 2017 Incentive Travel Report, “exclusivity and authenticity are among the key global Incentive travel trends.” Buyers will be pleasantly surprised by the range and quality of product on offer.

English is Zimbabwe’s official language. A comprehensive education system inherited from the colonial era remains today. In fact Zimbabwe has Africa’s highest literacy rate. The population is both racially and culturally diverse. The country celebrates Christian and national holidays only.

All told this destination is particularly suited to incentive travel. According to the Incentive Research Foundation: “As business in general continues to expand internationally, the same is true for incentive travel rewards and recognition programs.” Emerging destinations like Zimbabwe deserve

About the author

Delina Alwanger is managing director of Call of Wild Safaris, based out of Harare, Zimbabwe. She offers adventure and fishing tours in Southern Africa and can provide tours to Victoria Falls, the Zambezi River and Lake Kariba. For more information, visit her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/safarisinzimbabwe.

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