by Dr. Elinor Garely, special to eTN
Africa is a complex tourism destination. For travelers accustomed to discovering Europe, Asia, and the United States, even the idea of planning a holiday traveling through the African region can be daunting. For experienced tourists and/or people who call this part of the world “home” – itinerary planning is easy, not so much for the rest of us.
So – in addition to carving out a few hours to surf the web for everything African, speaking with friends and family who have visited the continent, and checking your calendar for a sizeable chunk of time for travel, the most important step to morphing African dreams to a real itinerary is finding a group of professionals with expertise and pacience who will work with you to plan your ideal journey.
There are many websites that feature African travel, and there are lots of people who claim to have knowledge of the region; however, it is unlikely to find anyone with more knowledge and experience than Ross Kennedy, CEO Africa Albida Tours. He and his expert staff provide the assurance that travelers who have committed the time, effort and resources to planning a “trip of a lifetime,” will end up as happy campers.
Sagacity or Crystal Ball
The tourism industry in Zimbabwe began to emerge approximately 30 years ago when Ross Kennedy connected with Dave Glynn and spotted the timeshare trend in the USA and Europe. At the time, the economy of Zimbabwe was government controlled and citizens had restricted access to foreign currency, limiting opportunities for travel outside the country.
According to Kennedy, one of the beauties of the timeshare model, was the benefit of being able to swap timeshare ownership in one country for accommodations in another, through affiliation with RCI Worldwide. If Kennedy’s plan for a timeshare resort were to be approved by the government, Zimbabweans could swap their locally purchased timeshare with resorts worldwide.
Pushing the Envelope
Kennedy knew that the challenge of getting the timeshare model approved in Zimbabwe was not going to be easy. His research started in Kenya where 27 of the most successful lodges and hotels were located. Taking the best ideas and filtering them through his own expertise and awareness of the hotel, travel and tourism industry he reviewed his options with his team.
His next step was to evaluate available real estate. He selected a location near (within 3 kms) one of the 7 major wonders of the world (Victoria Falls). The site also had a 100 percent natural bush setting adjacent to a National Park with an elevated plateau overlooking a waterhole with an unspoiled view. The vista stretched beyond the horizon and the western angle allowed for glorious African sunsets over the Park and waterhole. Kennedy claims that the location was an “act of good fortune,” combined with an “understanding of the relatively new Safari industry.”
While private sector development is encouraged, governments are frequently part of the conversation. When the bureaucrats in Harare were introduced to the timeshare project they were wary of it because it was a brand new idea. It took the Kennedy team 2 years to have the project approved (purchase of the land and the introduction of the timeshare concept). Unfortunately, the timeshare approval was for only 25 years (not in perpetuity) – but it was a start.
The trade marketplace (travel agents, tour operators) and consumers were the next groups that needed to be “persuaded” as to the beauty of the project. Finally, he was able to persuade, cajole and convince the public and private sectors that the timeshare concept was credible and now he needed financing. Using his charm, wit, and wisdom, Kennedy convinced the financial community to engage in his project and he had the green light for equity and loans to build Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.
Right Time. Right Place
Kennedy and his team opened the timeshare Lokuthula Lodges – Victoria Falls in June 1992 and the capital raised from timeshare sales provided the initial capital for constructing Victoria Falls Safari Lodge in 1994.
Training a group of salespeople in the nuances of timeshare is not an easy task, but the Kennedy team rose to the occasion and the target markets accepted the concept within Zimbabwe and the region. Zimbabwean expats with “blocked funds” (cash investments in banks that could not be transferred due to stringent Forex controls and shortages) were amenable to the project as their assets could now be used to buy a local timeshare. With RCI exchanges they could take holidays anywhere on the planet.
The Kennedy group next embarked on developing a themed Eco Park, Victoria Falls – another project never undertaken in Africa. The planned opening is 2020. In addition, the existing business units in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Chobe, Botswana are reaching new standards and enhanced guest satisfaction.
Political climates change and in Zimbabwe, there is a new and enlightened political and economic environment that encourages the growth of tourism. Kennedy finds that “Opportunities abound and international investors are looking hard…” He envisions a bright and positive future. “We have always punched our weight in our industry and that won’t change.”
Kennedy’s properties have been recognized by Conde Nast Annual Readers’ Choice Awards Gold List (Top 25 Resorts and Safari Camps in Africa). The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge has also been recognized by the Association of Zimbabwe Travel Agents (AZTA) as the Best Safari Lodge. Victoria Falls Safari Suites (opened in 2013) has received recognition by tour operators and travel agents. Kennedy finds that “As a destination and nation, we have so much to offer tourists and indeed investors…I look forward to playing a role with AAT to ensure tourism…”
Africa Albida Tourism (AAT). What It Means
Albida is derived from Acadia Albida (apple ring) tree found in semi-arid Africa. The tree is large and adaptable and dominates the landscape. In many parts of Africa, it is considered sacred for its life-supporting and enriching characteristics
The Kenney operation includes hotels, lodges, and restaurants in Southern Africa with Victoria Falls Safari Lodge as its flagship property. Other properties include: 20 room Victoria Falls Safari Club, Lofuthula Lodges (Victoria Falls) and Ngoma Safari Lodge (Chobe, Botswana). The Restaurant Division includes The Boma – Dinner and Drum Show, and the award-winning MaKuwa-Kuwa Restaurant.
The company is a member of Pack for a Purpose, an organization that allows travelers to have an impact on the community being visited. As a participant in the Green Fund, AAT helps to maintain the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site by donating $1 from every reservation made at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. The hotel staff participates in the Victoria Falls Clean-Up Campaigns, actively maintaining clean streets in the town of Victoria Falls. In addition, AATT supports two officers in the Local Tourism Police department and makes additional contributions to the force. AAT also partners with the Chobe Conservation Trust and is committed to sustainability.
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© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.