If your esteemed peers and colleagues vote you as the Tourism Industry Personality of the Year, then you know you’ve got it right. Ross Kennedy was awarded this honour in 2015 by the ZCT (Zimbabwe Council for Tourism) as a tribute to his illustrious career as a world-class hotelier. This career had a humble beginning in 1972 when he was an intern at the Jameson Hotel. His journey from there has experienced many ups and downs and challenges and successes. His perseverance, hard work and willingness to take a risk have paid off in spades for Ross.
Today, Ross is Chief Executive at Africa Albida Tourism (AAT), which is based here in Harare. AAT boasts the award-winning properties that include Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Victoria Falls Safari Club, Victoria Falls Safari Suites, Lokuthula Lodges and The Boma Dinner and Drum Show in Vic Falls, as well as Ngoma Safari Lodge in Botswana. Having recently shared a sundowner with the elephants, zebra and buffalo at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge myself, I can assure you that Ross’ admirable work ethic is evident in his team’s stunning and expertly run hotel. It is obvious why this property has won consistently at the AZTA awards ceremony every year since its inception in 1995.
Ross took time out of his busy schedule to chat with Harare Magazine about what’s happening in tourism in Zimbabwe today and things are really looking up! He told me about the recent tourism figures coming out of Victoria Falls, which has become the Destination Hub of Zimbabwe. The most astounding figure was the one that has seen a 48% increase in travellers from January-April 2017 to January-April 2018. That translates to 17,000 people! The knock-on effect that this kind of increase in tourism will have on Zimbabwe as a country is so positive. The new airport in Vic Falls has opened up the route access into Zimbabwe with airlines like Ethiopian Airlines, Air Namibia, Kenya Airways, Air Zimbabwe, South African Airways, fastjet, British Airways, SA Airlink and more charter flights flying in and out; there are currently 55 flights per week to and from the Vic Falls airport.
Ross has recently returned from Indaba in Durban, a travel show where a record number of exhibitors from Zimbabwe were represented. 51 companies enjoyed a great response from the industry to our new Zimbabwe, and Victoria Falls is on track be a top international destination in 2018 and 2019. Ross attributes this to the added energy seen throughout businesses in the past several months, and the contribution of government and ministry towards progress in the industry. The upcoming refurbishment and upgrade plans that AAT has in place for its properties are indicative of this positive outlook.
Ross Kennedy has served on a number of committees within the Zimbabwe tourism industry including ZCT, HAZ and Zimbabwe Chefs Association; he is an honorary fellow of The African Travel and Tourism Association (ATTA), co-founder and trustee of the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit (VFAPU) and winner of the WTO National Tourism Award in 2008 and Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year, which is awarded by ZTA. He is also a member of the Institute of Hospitality (MIH) and a Fellow of the Institute of Travel & Tourism (FITT).
While Ross’ career is certainly impressive, his experience and education has kept him grounded. He is a devoted family man. His wife, Karen, is a co-founder of AAT and they have four children and five grandchildren; two of their sons are in the business. Ross is passionate about the African bush, wildlife, golf, cricket, rugby and Lake Kariba. He told me, “If I could only take one more trip, it would be on a houseboat on Lake Kariba!”
Ross’ commitment to the community can be an inspiration for all of us. The Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit hosts a popular golf tournament annually, which raised nearly $25,000 in 2017 to aid the brave men and women who fight the evil poachers in the Vic Falls area. The AAT properties are all committed to conservation and sustainability of the natural environment, wildlife and the communities where they operate.
Ross offers some well-founded advice: “Take pride in what you do…Watch, listen, look, hear and see from those smarter, wiser and more experienced around you…Work hard, play hard, and look after family.” He means what he says; Ross donated a kidney to his cousin in 2004. He’s just that kind of guy!
More than anything, Ross Kennedy is committed to the people around him. He equates success in tourism to positive experiences for tourists and employees alike. Their joy and satisfaction is also his. Zimbabwe is incredibly fortunate to have men like Ross Kennedy championing our tourism industry and showcasing our beautiful country to the rest of the world. Thank you, Ross!
Contact Africa Albida Tourism (AAT)
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