By Judith Sibanda
Victoria Falls, March 11, 2016 – COUNCIL has accused vendors selling curios in the resort town of harassing tourists and stealing from the visitors, a practice the local authority says is a threat to the tourism industry.
Victoria Falls has dozens of vendors who sell artefacts such as curios to foreign tourists on the streets especially in the central business district.
The competition on the streets has forced the vendors to be aggressive in their marketing but Victoria Falls town clerk Christopher Dube said some of the vendors were now over doing it.
“We are having a big problem with curio vendors along the Ephant’s Walk and around the town centre,” Dube told RadioVOP.
“Tourists come to report almost every day saying they are being harassed by these people.
“The vendors follow the tourists in large numbers and they make a visitor’s stay end up not worth it.”
Dube said tourism police, a group of residents meant to protect tourists in the resort town, had failed to deal with the vendors’ menace.
He said it was likely that the marauding vendors were also involved in criminal activities targeting the police.
“Tourism police are not doing anything and it ends up our duty to protect these tourists and that gives us more job yet they are paid for free,” Dube complained.
“We suspect they (police) are also the ones who steal from our tourists because, they are dotted all over the town.
“They are also found at the rainforest but you find different tourists per day coming to report stolen goods or complaining about harassment.”
Anne Valley, an American tourist said she had a nightmarish experience at the hands of the curio vendors.
“This is so wrong,” Valley said. “There is no point of visiting if this is how people of Zimbabwe live. I came alone because I wanted to have a peaceful holiday but I am being harassed on the streets.
“The traders are so irritating and abusive, I doubt it can make me want to visit again.”
Hotel Association of Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls chapter chairman John Gwese blamed the police for the lawlessness.
“The initiative (tourism police) was introduced to safeguard and add comfort to our tourists but at the end, many reports come to us saying visitors are harassed on the streets,” he said.
“As hotels, we contribute some money to pay the hired police but due to unending complaints, we ended up surrendering them to the local police and they are the ones who give them their salaries on our behalf together with allocation of shifts among other duties.”
Zimbabwe Republic Police’s officer commanding Victoria Falls Superintendent Jairos Chiwona said they were aware of complaints against the traders and tourism police.
“This has become a big problem in town,” he said. “We have arrested quite a lot of people on allegations of victimising and stealing from our tourists.
“These vendors have become a nuisance in town and they never stop harassing our visitors. They do all sorts of embarrassing things just to get money from them.”
He said tourism police were not doing their job to protect tourists properly.
“Tourism police are not doing their jobs as well because many tourism have stopped contributing to the salary and as a result they no longer perform their job so well or report for duty daily,” Chiwona said.
The tourism police are drawn from the local community to protect visitors from criminals but the initiative has been crumbling because the over 20 members of the voluntary force say they are not being remunerated properly.
Council wants curio dealers to operate from designated areas that are safer and licensed but a number of vendors refuse to comply arguing that is no business at such places and prefer to approach tourists directly.