Tourists are gradually returning.
‘Life isn’t easy in Zimbabwe, but it’s getting better,’ said Nicholas Ndlovu, a hotel employee in the long-suffering resort.
Most tourists currently prefer to view the world’s largest curtain of falling water, which stretches 1.6 kilometres and drops nearly 130 metres on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe, from Zambia, which has invested heavily in tourism in recent years.
Numerous hotels have opened around the town of Livingstone, on the Zambian side of the falls. The Zambian government has also spent 11 million dollars to modernize Livingstone’s airport.
In the town centre of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, meanwhile, souvenir-shop owners and tour operators wait largely in vain for customers. The windows of a fast-food restaurant are covered with yellowed newspapers and the shopping centre stands abandoned except for an internet cafe on the second floor. There you can surf the web for one US dollar an hour – that is, if the electricity does not fail.
Adolescent street vendors loiter around, looking bored. As soon as they see a white face, they spring into action and try to exchange necklaces, carvings and worthless Zimbabwean dollars for greenbacks. The vendors are adept at making tourists feel guilty: ‘You come here on holiday but don’t want to support us? That’s not fair!’ they say.
It is possible, in fact, to holiday again in Victoria Falls – if you are able to overlook the poverty and suffering. Luxury hotels offer almost every service a tourist desires. Tour operators organize safaris, rafting and canoeing trips, helicopter flights and boat rides.
Zimbabweans are clearly trying to make a new start. This spring, representatives of the governments of Zimbabwe and South Africa met in Victoria Falls to discuss rebuilding Zimbabwe’s devastated economy. South Africa pledged financial aid and trade facilitation as well as cooperation in electricity generation and — looking ahead to the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa – tourism.
After a 10-year power struggle and severe economic difficulties, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe now governs the African nation in a coalition with former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. US dollars and South African rand have supplanted Zimbabwean dollars ravaged by hyperinflation.
Since the foreign currencies have been legalized, tinned foods, rice and other non-perishables have reappeared at the local supermarket. There are no fruits or vegetables, though. The sole functioning freezer cabinet contains a little meat.
Money remains a major problem for tourists. Few hotels accept credit cards. Tourists not carrying an ample supply of US dollars have to go to an exchange office on the Zambian side of the bridge spanning the Zambezi River. Zimbabwean hotel staff gladly accompany guests there who find they are unable to pay.
Zambia capitalizes on the situation, charging 50 US dollars for a single entry or 20 US dollars for day-trippers. It does not issue a formal visa. Every border-crossing must be paid for anew and border guards are implacable in demanding the fees.