Victoria Falls Grand Prix Arena – is it really the investment Zimbabwe tourism needs?

Victoria Falls Grand Prix Arena? Yes, thanks to a $1,2 billion dollar investment from Dubai-based firm, Feonirichi. Undoubtedly the most popular attraction in the country, Victoria Falls is already the continent’s adrenaline capital, which makes it the ideal location for the Grand Prix arena. It is said the arena will be big enough to accommodate formula one races. Feonirichi will also be constructing a medical resort, a 7-star hotel and convention centre to cater for the anticipated influx of tourists due. While there is no official completion date as yet, a ground-breaking ceremony has already been held and regulatory approvals are underway.

A lot is happening in Zimbabwe’s political sphere right now. However, tourism must continue to make positive strides in order to sustain the economy. Tourism contributes to 7.1% of the nation’s GDP, compared to over 21% a decade prior. A lot needs to be done to ensure tourism thrives again, and projects such as the construction of the Victoria Falls Grand Prix Arena will go a long way to contributing towards the increased growth. Or do they?

Improved Healthcare facilities and sports tourism

According to data from the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, hotel occupancy in Victoria Falls increased by 6% to 55% over the past year, with just over 75%  of these rooms being occupied by foreign travellers. Assuming the political situation normalises, the data suggests that this upward trend will continue. However, one can’t help but wonder if a 7-star, 300-room hotel and convention centre is what the small town of Victoria Falls needs right now. Efforts have been made to engage international brand ambassadors, football teams and celebrities to promote the country as a tourist destination. Local operators are confident that the number of visitors to Victoria Falls will grow. Furthermore, the Grand Prix arena will also attract a large number of travellers, with plans in place to host races four or five times annually. While I don’t think the construction of a 7-star hotel is a wise move right now, I do think the medical resort is a fantastic idea. Maternal and child healthcare services will be provided free of charge, a move anyone would acknowledge as noble. Furthermore, hosting formula one races will improve sport tourism in the region, a move that would be welcomed by anyone. Hosting formula one races will also increase destination exposure.

Over-tourism, noise pollution and exorbitant pricing

Some stakeholders in the tourism industry however think that the arena is a terrible idea, with concerns raised about over-tourism and noise pollution. Victoria Falls is a very small town, and just does not have the capacity to take hoards of travellers at a single point in time. While hotel occupancy is low, there is a high number of day visitors from South Africa and Zambia, which accounts for the large volumes of tourists in the town. It’s already overpriced, and this move anticipates that the wealthy will start to travel to Victoria Falls more. The current pricing  forces many travellers to opt for accommodation in Livingston, and then come to the Zimbabwe side for activities. So I’m not sure why they expect this trend to reverse.

When all is said and done, Zimbabwe needs all the injections of foreign capital it can get. This investment, coupled with a potential eight thousand jobs, could be the start of more grand projects to boost tourism in the country. What do you think about the Victoria Falls Grand Prix Arena? Is it a good idea, or could it have a negative impact on the appeal of Victoria Falls?

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