Published fears last November that Lake Kariba has only got enough water to generate power safely for another four months, though specific to hydro-power generation and totally unrelated to the boating sector, strangely affected the houseboating sector negatively.
The sector has braved depressed patronage over the past 16 years, but it has always managed to keep its proverbial head above the water. However, starting with the widely advertised auction-sale-in-execution by the Deputy Sheriff/Messenger of Court, Kariba, of three largely popular and well-patronised houseboats – “Unique” (formerly called the “Moromou”), “Millennium” and “Charisma”, the ship hit turbulent waters, raising fears that the centre might not hold anymore.
The sale, conducted in situ on the morning of Friday, 21 August 2015 at Marineland Harbour, has since been followed by others on a regular basis. Friday, 8 April 2016 witnessed the disposal of “This Is It”, “Kariba Star”, “Zimgran”, “Royal Game” and “Malachite”. Not all houseboats were snapped up as expected, an indication of a depressed market and doubts in the sector’s stability – both factors leading to an uncertain future.
Those houseboats not sold in April re-enter the market during another Deputy Sheriff/Messenger of Court sale-in-execution earmarked for Friday, 10 June 2016. Back on sale is the “Unique” houseboat whose last sale was reversed and the houseboat was temporarily returned to Lionzo Services. The “Shosholoza”, an open-plan, single-deck cruise boat owned by Richard Pemberton, has also been advertised as being sold by public auction. The “Conquest” houseboat is to be sold by private auction.
A number of other houseboats have either exchanged hands in recent times or are on sale. It is largely feared that if houseboating, a major attraction to Kariba, continues sneezing, things could really turn bad for the resort town. The situation is reaching a tipping point over which recovery may be difficult.
Fishing has also been adversely affected by a host of problems, most of which have become endemic. Low catches of the kapenta (Limnothrissa Miodon), threaten investment in the whole fishing sector.
These challenges have been compounded by lack of meaningful interventions from statutory state bodies like the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority and Inland Waters Authority, and their parent ministries, amongst others. Operational costs remain high due to multiple licensing and taxation, increase in licence fees against a suffocating sector, unfavourable exchange rate regime, uncoordinated policy implementation and a total lack of government support. Operators have drastically reduced their booking fees but this has not been complemented by increased patronage, sinking them further into debt and legal murky waters. Continued employment and downstream industries in both the fishing and tourism sectors are threatened. Some marina operators are also adjusting mooring fees to be in tandem with the reduced economic activity, whilst others are simply taking the boat owners to court, resulting in increased sales-in-execution.
The forthcoming auction-sale-in-execution next month is being viewed as only one of many to follow that will cripple the industry further, sending further panic in the sector.
Who or what will stabilise the troubled ship? At policy level, all appears well, but there is no implementation. There are still no domestic flights to Kariba, let alone direct flights from South Africa, the biggest source market. A bigger airport for Kariba has been on the cards for years but we are unlikely to see it soon.
We have heard of a more extensive univisa project in which all SADC countries will participate, accompanied by reasonable costs and a bureaucracy-free application process. Will we ever see this? This writer is aware that such a move involves sectors outside tourism such as security and multiple legal frameworks, but it could be done all the same.
The 15% VAT on payments for accommodation and tourism services by foreign visitors to Zimbabwe weighs heavily on tourism players and affects destination perception.
After struggling to attract tourists and fight off negative image, Kenya realised the need for recovery. The Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) implemented a number of measures among which included lowering taxes and improving public perception. In our case, we need to start by attracting the casual holiday maker, adventurers, celebrities and the business traveller. The KTB implemented a vibrant social media policy. Ours can only be described as lukewarm at best.

By: Laiton Kandawire
About the author: Laiton is a Kariba-based Destination Planner who can be reached on e-mail: ulakariba@gmail.com for enquiries and general information on Kariba related holiday options.