At the Kingdom Hotel in the Zimbabwean resort of Victoria Falls, waiters lay out Chinese stir-fried rice and Mongolian-style pork for breakfast and management has plans to introduce Kobe Beef to the menu.
Kingdom, a 294-room hotel near the world’s biggest waterfall that was named after Britain’s Queen Victoria by Scottish explorer David Livingstone, is catering to an influx of visitors from China and other east Asian nations. It was brought to its knees when a collapsing domestic economy, political violence and the global economic crisis saw it deserted by local and western visitors alike.
Now the African Sun Ltd. property is a benefiting from President Robert Mugabe’s “Look East policy,” a response to western sanctions on him and his closest allies, as Chinese, Japanese and South Korean tourists flood to the resort. Last year saw a record number of Asian visitors and this year should be better, said Derick Kung, the hotel’s manager.
“The Asians started arriving in 2009,” said Kung, a Zimbabwean of Chinese ancestry, in an interview at the hotel. “The Asian block has picked up particularly the Japanese, South Koreans have been significant, but guest arrivals from Singapore and Malaysia are also starting to pick up. We thought last year we were busy, but this year is something else, we are more than busy.”
The hotel is located in the town that goes by the same name as the one-mile-wide waterfall on the Zambezi River, which divides Zimbabwe and Zambia. When Livingstone came across the falls in 1855 it was already known locally as Mosi-oa-Tunya, or ’The Smoke That Thunders.’ In 1989 it was designated a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation World Heritage Site.
The resort also offers white-water rafting and a 111-meter (364-foot) bunji jump off a bridge spanning Africa’s fourth- biggest river. Visits to a game park populated by lions and elephants and to a crocodile farm are also on offer.
While hotels were filled to capacity in the 1990s, occupancy sank to 30 percent in 2006 as Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis drove international visitors to the Zambian side of the river, according to To The Victoria Falls, an online guide to the resort.
In 2000 about 269,000 visitors arrived from Europe. That number fell to 108,161 in 2008 before recovering to 128,901 in 2013, according to the Zimbabwean Tourism Authority.
Criticized by the European Union and the U.S. because of electoral irregularities and political violence Mugabe’s government’s policy to seek warmer relations with Asia has seen Sinosteel Corp. acquire the country’s biggest ferrochrome producer. Sinohydro Corp., China Gezhouba Group Co. Ltd. and China Machinery Equipment Corp. have expressed interest in power investment.
It has also benefited tourism with Kung saying 30 percent to 40 percent of the hotel’s clientele are now from Asia.
“Business is really good, particularly at the moment we are fully booked,” said Kung, who has been general manager of Kingdom Hotel for nine years.
The number of Asian tourists to Zimbabwe more than doubled between 2000 and 2013 to 52,959, with Chinese visitors more than tripling between 2012 and 2013 to make up half of that number.
“Most of our guests want to go to Victoria Falls,” said Ke Zhao, chief executive officer of Zimbabwe International Travel and Tours which focuses on bringing Chinese tourists to Zimbabwe, arranging trips for about 500 last year. “We are usually busy during the Chinese New Year Holiday” in February, he said.
In 2013, Victoria Falls had 10,173 tourists from China and 9,603 from Japan, according to the ZTA. In total 26,420 Asian tourists visited the resort in 2013 while in the first half of this year 16,370 came from the region with Japan outstripping China.
The increase in visitors is due to tourism initiatives undertaken by the government in China and Japan, Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi, said in an an interview.
“By the end of this year, we should be having tourism attaches in China; two in Shanghai and one in Beijing,” he said in an interview in Victoria Falls. “It’s not only Chinese, but we targeting tourists from Asia as a whole as well.”
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