Victoria Falls rises again
THE Mosi oa Tunya waterfall – ‘the smoke that thunders’ – is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The falls are located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, between the cities of Livingstone and Victoria Falls, both of which have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting decline in tourism.
Victoria Falls, a quaint but majestically beautiful town, is almost completely reliant on tourism for its survival. It is trying to entice travellers back by rolling out a vaccination program designed to minimise the risk of infection.
It has been a success, according to local authorities, who claim that Victoria Falls is the only city in the world to reach herd immunity with 76 percent of its population vaccinated.
The Zimbabwean government began rollout of the Sinopharm vaccine earlier this year, and made Victoria Falls a priority. “Our government has been very forward thinking. They had Victoria Falls and tourism as a whole as part of the first priority in phase one…and we managed to in a month achieve herd immunity,” Shelley Cox, crisis communications coordinator for tourism initiative We Are Victoria Falls, told The Continent.
Although encouraging, this claim should be treated with caution, however: it is not yet known what proportion of a given population must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, according to the World Health Organisation.
While Zimbabwe as a whole, like almost all African countries at the moment, is still grappling with the pandemic and its effects, Victoria Falls’ inhabitants have largely been enthusiastic about getting the vaccine and have not been significantly hesitant in that regard.
Cox believes that they have been motivated by the prospect of getting back to normal, which means getting tourists back into the city. “A lot of livelihoods have been lost and unfortunately with that comes an increase in poverty levels, which results in more people turning to our natural resources to survive.”
During the pandemic, the community rallied together for food drives, community cleanups and various awareness campaigns where people were given food and kept involved in the welfare of the city. “Whilst the impact has been significant, what has been hugely positive and reassuring is the community coming together,” Cox said. “You’ve even got guides who’ve lost their livelihoods who’ve still been volunteering their time to go out in the field and assist with anti-poaching efforts because their long term livelihoods depend on the wellbeing and welfare of our wildlife.”
Although the tourism industry is still operating at only 20 percent of its regular capacity, things do seem to be picking up. International travel is increasing, largely from the United States, as well as with some regional travel. Matetsi Victoria Falls, a hotel, experienced almost 100 percent guest capacity this past week for the first time since before the pandemic and several other lodges reported increasing numbers.
“The beauty of Victoria Falls at the moment is that prices are far more affordable than they’ve ever been … most hotels are offering great SADC rates and this is giving [southern] Africans a lot more opportunity to travel to places that would’ve been out of your average price range previously,” said Linda Balme, the senior commercial manager for Travelstart.
All over the city, residents wave to passing tourist busses and shout enthusiastically: “Welcome to Zimbabwe!” They are undeniably happy to have visitors back in their midst and as a traveller it’s difficult not to feel happy to see them, strangers though they may be.