Victoria Falls Reporter
BINGA is a sleeping tourism giant with untapped resources and potential to resuscitate the country's leisure sector and drive the economy if efforts are made to exploit existing opportunities.
Tourism operators based in Binga, located at the tail of Lake Kariba, recall how some years back Binga used to compete with Victoria Falls in terms of tourist arrivals as visitors from across the globe enjoyed a wide range of activities including boat cruises, boating, fishing, site seeing, hunting, photography and a rich local culture.
There are also five-star lodges and hotels dotted along the Zambezi River and Kariba Dam, completing a full package for visitors. Little attention has been given to the tourism district over the years resulting in Binga being almost forgotten as a destination.
As a result few people are aware of magnificent sand beaches located in Binga, one managed by ZimParks and the rural district council on the western side, while the other is on the eastern side run by Jimba Safaris Zimbabwe, which is leasing Forestry Commission's Sijalila concession.
Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu also acknowledged during his recent visit to Binga that the district is indeed a sleeping giant.
The Government recently approved the Integrated Development Programme/Conceptual Development Framework for the Victoria Falls-Hwange--Binga Special Economic Zones (SEZ) whose idea is to integrate economic activities, catapult growth and improve livelihoods in the province.
The crafting of a blueprint to operationalise the greater Victoria Falls SEZ is already underway and is crucial for special focus to be made on Binga, as the country moves towards the 2030 Vision enunciated by President Mnangagwa to turn the country into an upper-middle class economy.
The Sijalila beach is about 30km from Binga centre by road, but it takes an hour to get there because of the bad road and only 20 minutes by boat.
"Binga is earmarked to be part of the tourism corridor that stretches from Victoria Falls through Hwange to Karoi but remains a sleeping giant whose awakening will open great development opportunities for this country especially in line with the devolution agenda," said Minister Ndlovu who was charmed by a sand beach at Jimba Safaris Zimbabwe.
Minister Ndlovu said there is a need to improve accessibility to Binga to attract visitors.
Binga's roads are in a sorry state with the 154km Binga-Cross Dete road, which connects to the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls highway, filled with potholes and one can take about three hours to reach the destination.
The airstrip at Binga centre is also neglected while there is also no investment in the boating industry, which can provide a tourism link between Binga and Kariba.
"It's my first time here and I can see it's a beautiful place. I am keen to see people use the river more. There is a whole boat industry to tap into and this beach, which is much bigger than the one on the other side of Binga. All we need to do is to see how best we can draw people to both beaches," said Minister Ndlovu.
He said Government is serious about developing the Vic Falls-Hwange-Binga-Karoi corridor.
"The main hindrance is road network. The road is bad up to where it connects the Victoria Falls highway. We are willing to partner players and we will be engaging the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development and even come here together because I think we can fix the road and we see how that changes visitors' volumes.
"I believe this is something we can do for our tourism. We will be increasingly giving this area more focus and so we continue having more people coming here for holiday," he said.
While Binga is generally sleepy, the beach has been attracting hundreds of people according to Jimba Safaris owner and managing director Mr Wayne Dietrechsen.
Jimba Safaris Zimbabwe offers accommodation at the five-star lakeside hotel, fishing, photography, sight-seeing and hunting.
Mr Dietrechsen said the lodge is fully booked for December.
"The beach is usually busy between April and December but this time we were affected by Covid-19. This is unique and people love the outdoor life, freedom and fresh air and we are fully booked for December," he said.
Clients are mostly from European countries and other parts of the world.
Mr Dietrechsen implored authorities to give attention on Binga as a destination and also invest in transport network to ensure locals can also drive to the place for holidays.
Jimba Safaris Zimbabwe entered into partnership with the Forestry Commission to operate in Sijalila Forest and offers self-catering for US$30 per person. It costs US$50 per person to access the beach and sail in the lake for half a day.