It’s a popular quiz question around the world, “Where are Victoria Falls?” Yet incredibly, few UK consumers seem to be able to answer correctly.
Our most recent consumer survey – conducted amongst travellers who have all flown long-haul - gave Kenya (32%) and South Africa (30%) as the two most popular answers. Yet as we know, the two correct countries are Zambia (16%) and Zimbabwe (13%). Less than 30% of those surveyed knew either of the correct answers.
Yet in that same survey (and countless earlier polls), those same people voted their number one tourism attraction in Africa as those same awe-inspiring waterfalls. This makes it even more astonishing that consumers don't accurately know where to find them.
Even knowing their correct location only opens up other issues for debate, such as ...
1. Which country has most of the Falls? ...Factually speaking, more of the Falls are located in Zambia, but I'm not sure that makes a huge difference to the traveller.
2. Which side offers the best views?.....The superior viewing experience varies enormously by season, with spectacular views provided by both sides at different parts of the year (so I’d always recommend seeing them from above in a helicopter, as well, regardless of when you are there!)
3. But perhaps the key question for tourism marketers, which country markets the Falls best?...I’d say its a low-scoring draw.
In the battle of the Z’s, Zimbabawe has one huge advantage – the town on its side of the falls is handily called Victoria Falls, whilst Zambian's equivalent is Livingstone. Named in honour of the explorer David Livingstone, who “discovered” the falls in 1855, this provides the town no obvious geographical tie-in to the Falls.
Zimbabwe also sensibly called its newly opened state-of-the-art airport, Victoria Falls International, thereby staking another ownership claim.
Back in the nineteenth century, Livingstone dedicated the Falls to his monarch, Queen Victoria, despite the local population being more than happy to retain their original name – Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders). I sense that in time, the 'woke' clamour to return to this name might increase, but I predict that the world at large will call them Victoria (or Vic) Falls for a long time to come.
There is even a suggestion that the two conurbations should be renamed : Victoria Falls South-town and Victoria Falls North-town. A great idea, but personally I can't see the Zimbabwean’s agreeing to that one. Note that this Google map gives no mention of Livingstone.
My answer regarding marketing supremacy also comes with a caveat. I’d say that Victoria Falls is actually “available for ownership”, with the country that loudly promotes the fact that they play host to this most impressive of natural wonders would gain global accreditation. Tanzania infamously included gorillas into their visual presentation at Indaba, and why not? It's only a quick charter flight from the Serengeti to Uganda or Rwanda!
A sizeable marketing campaign by either Zambia or Zimbabwe would allow them to lay claim to being the home of Victoria Falls (without in any way misleading the public, or stealing anything more than limelight from the other).
Yet even ‘ownership’ of the Falls is not a guaranteed route to tourism success. Imagine for a moment, a world in which all tourists believed Victoria Falls were located solely in Zambia and nowhere else. That would inevitably lead to add Zambia being added to many travellers’ bucket lists. But we know that for most visitors to safari Africa, their primary driver is to have exceptional wildlife experiences, with the opportunity to visit the Falls as an incredible must-do 'add-on', not vice versa.
Would the easy accessibility and comparative fame of parks like Chobe (and the Okavango Delta) in Botswana or Hwange in Zimbabwe mean that they would capture the lion’s share of the travellers’ time, with international visitors spending just couple of days in Zambia solely to see the Falls?
Whilst the magnificent South Luangwa is a huge draw for 'those in the know', its lack of international fame potentially holds Zambia back. Kafue (which I personally love) doesn't currently have the game reputation of the other parks, whilst the Lower Zambezi is too often deemed complicated to get to (from Livingstone). Misperception of Zambia’s tourism offering is a sadly reoccurring theme.
Kamageo’s view is that Zambia must position itself as the premium authentic wildlife destination in the whole of Southern Africa, and that it also happens to be home to the unmissable Victoria Falls.
This is a difficult task without sizeable budgets, as well as a difficult balancing act with messaging....but achievable all the same.
If you'd like to discuss this further, please do contact Tim Henshall, via email@example.com
Kamageo is a UK-based tourism marketing agency, dedicated to Africa. With 20 years experience, we are experts at assessing tourism offerings and consumer segmentation, as well as implementing highly effective marketing communications. Kamageo has already helped significantly increase visitor numbers to a dozen African destinations.