Tourist visits at Victoria Falls nosedive amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Panoramic view of the Victoria Falls in the middle of the Zambezi river. Zambia, 1964 (Photo by Mario De Biasi Per Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
Panoramic view of the Victoria Falls in the middle of the Zambezi river. Zambia. (Photo by Mario De Biasi Per Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

In 2019, about one million tourists visited the Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Zambia. Now, only a handful of locals view the Mosi oa Tunya (Smoke that Thunders), as it is locally named.

The Livingstone Tourism Association has warned that if the situation continues, the tour operators in Zambia’s tourist capital, may be forced to shut down their operations.

In 2019, the tourism industry contributed some seven percent of Zambia’s gross domestic product (GDP) and about 7.2 percent of total employment. International tourists spent some 849 million U.S. dollars, representing about 10 percent of Zambia’s total exports, according to government statistics.

Between January and June 2020, only about 14,000 tourists were recorded at the Victoria Falls by local authorities.

In an interview with Xinhua, Livingstone Tourism Association (LTA) Chairperson Rodney Sikumba, painted a gloomy picture for the city.

He said although local tourists visited the city, they did not have the purchasing power needed to sustain the 257 tourism businesses. He warned that most of his members faced bankruptcy.

“We can attract the locals, but then they will find that the pricing is prohibitive,” Sikumba observed.

He said there was need to re-invent local tourism as operators had to reduce pricing to loss-making margins for them to accommodate domestic tourists.

“From the way things are, its very difficult for me an operator to reduce my pricing by 30 percent on account of trying to attract domestic tourists. That in itself, we are robbed of the very little profit we trying to make,” Sikumba said.

He, however, is hopeful that a silver lining would come once COVID-19 is defeated.

Apart from the Victoria Falls, Livingstone is also known for its colourful local crafts, which is part of the city’s prized possessions.

Most of the crafts that are sold to tourists as souvenirs are carved in Mukuni Village which is part of the Falls area.

Mukuni Crafts Association Chairperson, Joseph Sitali, described the current situation as a disaster.

He said his over 200 members are failing to make sales as locals rarely bought curios.

Sitali said his members are considering taking their business online but have no knowledge of e-commerce.

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