Tourism Impacts

Tourism needs careful planning to avoid impacts…

The Zambezi River is recognized as a globally important wilderness tourism destination, with its major attractions including the Victoria Falls, the Batoka, Kariba, Mupata and Lupata Gorges, two man-made lakes as large as inland seas – Kariba and Cabora Bassa and a combination of lowveld and rift/escarpment mountain habitats with abundant wildlife and spectacularly beautiful scenery. The river basin also incorporates two UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya and Mana/Sapi/Chewore) and the Middle Zambezi Biosphere Reserve as well as several of Africa’s finest National Parks and safari areas. Its magnificent delta has, for centuries, been a focal point in the history and culture of the region.

With global tourism increasing annually, careful long-term planning is needed in order to prevent the pressure for tourism development and its associated impacts eroding the very wilderness values that make the Zambezi River such an attractive destination.

The effects of a growing tourism industry and pressure for more tourism development is most evident at Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-/Tunya, the Zambezi River’s most famous tourist destination, and along popular sections of the Zambezi River such as Chiawa/Lower Zambezi/Mana Pools. Lack of sensible planning and a tendency to ignore aesthetic, wilderness and environmental factors in the rush for short-term profit, are in danger of reducing the quality of the visitor experience.

The main focus of The Zambezi Society in recent years has been on tourism developments affecting the Mana Pools section of the Zambezi River.

Tourism at Mana Pools

After Zimbabwe’s economic and political crisis years between 2000 and 2009, tourism has finally began to return to the Zambezi Valley. Mana Pools National Park is proving to be an extremely popular destination once again – for fly-in and self-drive tours, canoeing and walking safaris.

However, the Park’s river shoreline and its narrow alluvial “floodplain” (only 35km long and 5 kms at its widest) are extremely vulnerable and fragile eco-systems which could easily lose their special ecological and wilderness qualities if tourism impacts are not carefully monitored and controlled.

The Zambezi Society has been working with the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Authority in a number of ways to help reduce tourism impacts in Mana Pools:-

  • Developing, producing and distributing a Code of Conduct for use by all visitors to Mana Pools (as well as a similar one for Chitake Spring). These are downloadable HERE
  • Displaying its Respect the Wild Code of Conduct at tourist offices and encouraging visitors to read and understand its principles
  • Assisting with the introduction of a “Carry-in-Carry-Out” policy for waste management in the Park
  • Lobbying against the experimental introduction of motor-boating in Mana Pools during the rainy season (after consultation with its members showed a vast majority not in favour of this practice).
  • Assisting in the development of wilderness-sensitive tourism policies for incorporation into the Mana Pools Park Management Plan
  • Objecting to tourism development proposals that contradict the recommendations of the Park Management Plan.

Planning controversies

In 2008, The Zambezi Society, as a major stakeholder, was invited by Zimbabwe’s Parks & Wildlife Management Authority to participate in developing a 10-year Management Plan for Mana Pools National Park and World Heritage Site. Planning for future tourism was an important component of this Plan, and the Society, along with other stakeholders, played an active role in its process and formulation. However, although completed to the satisfaction of the stakeholders, there have been delays in signing the Park Plan into legislation. Meanwhile, a number of controversial tourism development proposals for Mana Pools, contrary to recommendations of the agreed Plan have been fast-tracked without the necessary consultations – a situation unacceptable to the Zambezi Society. Not only will these developments inevitably increase tourism impacts on the already-impacted and fragile alluvial eco-system of the Mana Pools floodplain, but public access to popular and scenic places like Mana River Mouth (pictured here) will be unfairly restricted.

While continuing to lobby strongly for the completed Mana Pools Management Plan to be formally implemented, and objecting to proposed tourism developments that are against the recommendations of the Plan, The Society is also fund-raising for a wider planning process which will allow for more creativity and flexibility with regard to planning tourism development options. This would take place at two levels:

Level 1: Zimbabwe only: incorporating the Hurungwe, Sapi and Chewore Safari Areas with Mana Pools, into a plan for the whole Middle Zambezi Zimbabwe section;

Level 2: Zimbabwe and Zambia together: a wider, trans-boundary plan for the Zambezi River, incorporating National Parks, Safari Areas and community land on both sides of the river. This would address many conflicting land-use and tourism impact problems described below.

Tourism and Trans-boundary problems

Most of the land south of the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe is state protected. Mana Pools National Park, with its neighbouring Sapi and Chewore Safari Areas, was granted World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 1984, and now forms one of two Core Areas of the new UNESCO Middle Zambezi Biosphere Reserve.

However, this recognition of the global significance of this section of the Zambezi River, has not yet been granted on the Zambian side of the river. This causes planning problems.

On the Zambezi’s northern bank, the Zambian land use is a mixture of state protected land – the Lower Zambezi National Park, and community wildlife land – The Chiawa Game Management Area (GMA). .

Zimbabwe attempts to control tourism developments on its side of the river in order to reduce impacts on its World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. It seeks to attract low-impact wilderness-based tourism in order to retain the wild qualities for which Mana Pools has been globally recognized. However, in Zambia’s Chiawa GMA, which lies directly opposite Mana Pools, more than 20 riverside tourism sites have recently been allowed to develop – some at a distance of less than 500 metres from the World Heritage Site. Lack of planning and co-ordination has resulted in visually unattractive lodge designs, and increasing visitor pressure has brought a predictable increase in traffic noise, boat-use and other tourism impacts which destroy the environment and reduce the wilderness quality that Zimbabwe is so carefully trying to maintain.

(Pictured here is a visibly unsuitable Zambian lodge development with its unattractive waterwheel which is clearly visible from the Zimbawbean side of the Zambezi River).

This cross-border conflict of interests and land-uses was clearly illustrated in 2010, when Protea Hotels Zambia put forward a controversial proposal to construct a modern, 144-bed conference facility in the Chiawa GMA on the banks of the Zambezi River right opposite Mana Pools. This was vigorously fought by the Zambezi Society, which via a Consultation Paper to its constituency and use of a Facebook site SAVE MANA POOLS, created an international outcry which forced Protea Hotels to withdraw its proposal.

The Zambezi Society is lobbying for wider, trans-boundary planning to encompass the whole Mana/Lower Zambezi/Chiawa GMA area. This would provide a mechanism for greater co-ordination, for reducing land-use conflict and for mitigating tourism impacts on both sides of the river, thus allowing wildlife and wilderness resources to be retained into the future.

Tourism at Victoria Falls

Many of the tourism impact challenges facing Mana Pools have also been occurring in Victoria Falls, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site (although in this case it is shared between Zimbabwe and Zambia).

During the 1990s and 2000s, The Zambezi Society made inputs into various tourism planning initiatives for Victoria Falls emphasizing the importance of retaining wilderness values. We also sought to prevent or minimize unsuitable tourism development both on the Zimbabwean and Zambian sides of the Zambezi River by contributing to Environmental Impacts Assessments for development proposals and seeking to mitigate impacts on biodiversity or wilderness. In some cases, the Society joined other groups in objecting to a tourism proposal e.g. the Zambian Legacy Holdings Hotel development in Livingstone in 2007. Through strong public opposition, Legacy Holdings were forced to re-evaluate their development options to reduce environmental impact on the World Heritage Site.