Zimbabwe’s bold entry into the high-end luxury safari arena in southern Africa
Here, Luke Brown of Vayeni, acknowledges Zimbabwe’s bold entry into the high-end luxury safari arena in southern Africa. He further discusses whether it has the staying power to sustain its new position and indeed grow its offering in this very rewarding yet competitive tourism genre.
Vayeni is an independent Luxury Destination Management Company, based in Zimbabwe. The company caters to the luxury market by partnering with high-end outbound safari outfitters based in source markets around the globe. Vayeni offers balanced and objective support to its partners as the most trusted and authoritative source for luxury safari travel in the region.
Until now, Zimbabwe has been known in the luxury travel market primarily for its excellent 4-star deluxe and intimate style camps and lodges throughout the country. They offer exceptional value, expert guiding, incredible locations and true Zimbabwean hospitality and they are easily combined into a safari circuit.
At an average cost per person per night (ppn) of US$450 fully inclusive these camps combine to provide a very competitive offering in the region.
Neighbouring Botswana offers both 4- and 5-star options, although it is known largely for the latter in luxury travel circles. Our estimate in Botswana is that the 4-star camp/lodge offering sits at an average of US$650 ppn through the year fully inclusive, whilst the 5-star offering comes out at an average of US$1,100 ppn fully inclusive.
Zambia is virtually on a par with Zimbabwe, although possibly a little more expensive, due to a greater number of 5-star offerings in parts of the country.
The Emergence of a New Player
Now enter Zimbabwe formally to the ultra-luxury safari stage. This is a space that needed to be taken advantage of by a country that is emerging as one of the world’s new hot destinations. Why would it not capitalise and benefit from the super-high-end section of the market? The question is whether it can compete, especially with neighbouring Botswana’s firm and long-time grip on this market?
Will The Trend Take Off?
Will Zimbabwe really be able to compete at this level? Stepping up to cater for this market requires exceptional knowledge, profound expertise and the backing of both private and public sector. With this in mind let’s have a look and see what is in Zimbabwe’s favour.
1. Government Support
The new dispensation in Zimbabwe recognises the benefits of tourism and the impact of supporting the sector’s growth at the top level. The government has made available the necessary ingredients required to create the platform for growth in the knowledge that partnering with the right private players will only be good for the country’s image and long-term prosperity.
2. Private Sector Confidence
It has taken some of the big names synonymous with Luxury African Safaris to make this happen along with the support of some visionary independents too. In the last year, Great Plains entered Zimbabwe and their flagship camp in the country is Mpala Jena, in the Zambezi National Park. Not too far further upstream from them Matetsi re-opened with a bang. Both these products sell at prices in excess of US$1,000ppn all inclusive, the former being the slightly more premium of the two.
Wilderness Safaris completely rebuilt Linkwasha camp in a game rich corner of Hwange and now offer both the boutique Little Ruckomechi and exclusive come-back of Chikwenya in the Mana Pools area. For exceptional alternatives at a slightly lower rate African Bushcamps provides equally good camp offerings in the way of Somalisa (Hwange) and Nyamatusi (within Mana Pools National Park). The M.V. Matusadona is by far the most luxurious motor cruiser on Lake Kariba, creating access to remote and game rich parts of the lake combined with extreme comforts.
Singita have just completed a major refurbishment of their exclusive Pamushana located on Malilangwe, adjoining Gonarezhou in Zimbabwe’s south eastern lowveld. All offer completely different experiences in unique landscapes with exceptional guiding and an overall attention to detail not found elsewhere in the country. Helicopters are also more frequently being used as a mode of transport into and out of camps. Charter Flights to all corners are also readily available for those wanting to travel in their own time and avoid schedules.
If all these big names and competent players believe it can be done, then surely Zimbabwe’s stage presence will be long lasting and memorable.
3. Diverse Offering
Zimbabwe simply has to be one of the most diverse travel destinations in Africa. Barring the fact that it is a landlocked country the diversity of vegetation belts, landscapes, wildlife and cultures makes it a highly attractive country to visit and spend more than just a few days in. We can expound on this point all day, but the fact is readily accepted by almost all who know the country. High end tourism makes even greater demands of diversity because people who wish to spend significant amounts of money tend to look for the extraordinary.
4. Low Volume Benefits to Conservation
The benefits of low impact tourism on pristine wilderness areas are there for all to see. It is a model that has worked exceptionally well in Botswana. Their country’s wildlife numbers are some of the best on the continent. They have the highest number of elephants left anywhere in Africa and a huge proportion of their land surface is dedicated to conserving wildlife, much of it by employing this very model.
Thus, in conclusion, we might ask the question of whether there is still space on the stage for more players. Is Zimbabwe’s entrance smart or pure folly? Above, we allude to Botswana’s dominance in the super high-end safari market, but given this control would Zimbabwe’s entry necessarily take away from this and just create another thin slice of the same cake? Or alternatively would it simply add more options to an ever-burgeoning market.
We believe that it is definitely the latter, especially if you consider what we have outlined in the points above, in particular the last point about the significant contribution of the low-volume high-cost model to conservation. The only threat to this model is the stability of the country and thus it is incumbent on all of us involved to ensure that this prevails.