Corridors Through Time

A History of The Victoria Falls Hotel

Ripples at the Landing Stage

In addition to the ongoing restructuring and redevelopments at the Hotel, there were decisions to be made on the future of the Hotel’s transport services. By 1963 the Hotel’s buses and launches were reaching the end of their operational life-spans, and in order to avoid the expenditure of replacement it was decided to end the internal operation of the Hotel’s boat and minibus services.

In the early 1960s the Falls Hotel had looked at expanding its facilities and services at the Boat House and Landing Stage. The site, a short distance upstream from the Falls was leased by the Railway Company on behalf of the Hotel. Over the years the facilities had developed to include a boat shed, launch slipway and an open-air tearoom for waiting passengers, serving ‘the best tea and cream buns in the Falls.’ In the early sixties the Hotel management seriously considered expanding this into a fully-fledged visitor restaurant with car-parking facilities. An internal Hotel report in 1963 concluded:

“After considering very carefully the provision of a restaurant at the boat house on the south bank of the Zambezi it was decided, that in view of the shortage of capital funds together with the fact that we were only able to obtain a very restricted liquor licence, the project should be abandoned.” (Victoria Falls Hotel Management Committee, March 1963)

The Zambezi Landing Stage

The Zambezi Landing Stage on the south bank

Hotel management committee reports recorded that numerous delays were encountered in negotiations over the sublease of the Landing Stage site, and that during these delays, the launches and boat house were totally destroyed by a freak fire. Documents do not detail the cause of the fire and the site was abandoned. The Railway Company duly terminated the leases for the landing stage site and also the picnic-site on Kandahar Island, bringing to an end the Hotel’s long association operating river launches and tours.

Requiring an immediate replacement for their launch services, the Hotel management turned to Livingstone based Greenway Launches & Taxi Services, operated by Mr A S Sussens from the north bank, the only operator with the capacity to deliver an adequate service for the Hotel. Whilst appreciating Mr Sussens cooperation in ensuring that the Hotel suffered no disruption to its launch services for its guests, the Hotel Management initially decided it unwise to pass all their clientele to a single operator, preferring to share their business among two or more companies and encouraging some healthy competition.

Contract Competition

The Falls Hotel management committee eventually determined that the Hotel would “benefit by allowing private enterprise to take over the launch services, under certain safeguards to the Management, on the understanding that the Hotel would be the sole booking agent for all trips, on a 10% commission basis” (Victoria Falls Hotel Management Committee, March 1963).

The contract for the operation of the Hotel’s vehicle transfers and boat tours was included in an invitation to private companies which appeared in the Livingstone Mail in September 1963. The call for tender appears to have sparked a scramble between Livingstone businesses, none of which appeared to have the existing capacity or quality of services the Hotel required. Partnerships were made, and broken, new companies formed and investors sought, all in the chase to land the Hotel’s business.

Mr Harry Sossen, a businessman of some standing in Livingstone and manager of the Victoria Falls Garage on the south bank, originally agreed a partnership with the established Zambezi Safaris company, based on the southern bank and operated by Mr Jocelyn. However they were quickly to part company, for reasons unknown, with Mr Sossen setting himself up in the boating business on the north bank, and even going as far as to purchase the launches and buses necessary for the contract. Zambezi Safaris found themselves another financial investor, this time from Bulawayo, and together with several other companies, submitted proposals.

In 1964 the Hotel’s transport and booking desk services were contracted to the United Touring Company, who were to exclusively manage and operate the Hotel’s river cruises and local tours for many years. The Hotel’s landing stage site, originally established by Giese and used by Clark until taken over by the Hotel, was abandoned and reclaimed by nature. New commercial jetty sites were developed further upstream, leased to a new wave of tour operators.

The Landing Stage

Passengers embark on to one of the Hotel's launches

Today the site of the old Landing Stage can still be located along Zambezi Drive, with a series of steps down the riverbank. Only recently, in 2014, local resident Mr Godwill Ruona’s sharp eyes happened to spot something exposed in the receding water, and pulled out of the mud a small brass plaque reading ‘DIANA - 16 passengers.’ Mr Ruona has presented the name plate to the Jafuta Heritage Centre (located at the Elephant’s Walk Shopping Village, Victoria Falls) for future display.

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A History of the Victoria Falls Hotel

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