Stung by limited business compounded by low arrivals and uptake of activities and services by tourists, tour operators doing business in Victoria Falls have resorted to desperate measures of informal vending in curios to maximise income.
The big companies and hotels now operate curio shops in their offices and ‘illegal’ vending stalls in the Rainforest as they target tourists, who now mostly prefer neighbouring Botswana and Zambia.
Those who cross into Victoria Falls mostly do one day trips and return to Kasane or Livingstone where they prefer to be booked due to cheaper rates.
As a result, business is low for local operators hence they have diversified into informal trade.
This has, however, courted the ire of residents who have accused operators of monopolising business by venturing into small scale vending which should be done by unemployed people.
Speaking at a recent public meeting organised by the Victoria Falls Consortium, which was meant to provide a platform for discussion with aspiring candidates from different political parties, residents complained that tour operators were now running vending shops.
They said by venturing into informal work, the big companies were disadvantaging residents who over the years have survived on selling curios and other artefacts to tourists to eke a living after losing their jobs.
“If you go into the Rainforest, companies have set some vending stalls and selling curios everywhere. We wonder who allowed them and allocated them that land to sell from there when us we are not allowed to do so,” said a resident.
Another resident said: “We used to know the Rainforest as a clean natural area that would attract tourists but what would happen to it now that it’s being commercialised and everyone is selling inside. Some companies and some politicians are now vending inside. We know those who have shops inside the Rainforest and we want leaders who can help us correct this.”
The Residents said they were not happy that the Rainforest was not benefitting locals, as they accused current Victoria Falls councillors of corruptly allowing companies to operate vending stalls around town.
They said some companies had even employed some agents who sell curios and services to tourists on the streets hence visitors were no longer visiting designated vending areas such as Sinathankawu, Busy Island, Landela Complex and others.
The residents implored those aspiring to be Members of Parliament for Hwange West Constituency and councillors in Victoria Falls to move a motion in Parliament for the resort town to be allowed to retain at least 10 percent of gate takings into the facility.
This is not the first time Victoria Falls residents have expressed concern over the Rainforest.
A few months ago residents petitioned Parliament demanding to be allowed free entry into the Rainforest.
They said their children were being disadvantaged and failing in school yet the Rainforest is closer to them because they can’t afford to pay entry fees.
It costs $7 for locals to enter the Rainforest and $20 for those from the Sadc region.
Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Prisca Mupfumira recently threw her weight behind locals saying they should be charged nominal fees as a way of promoting Domestic tourism.