KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
WHEN South African blogger Beverley Dias came for the first-ever Zambia Tourism Expo (ZATEX) that was held at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka in May this year, she had a lot to write about Zambia.
Her conclusion was that Zambia is a country of great beauty, with endless attractions and an abundance of adventures to meet any need.
â€œMy first impressions of Lusaka were that it is like Johannesburg, South Africa, in terms of the fast-paced life. I was extremely impressed to learn that women held a number of important portfolios in Government and that the President, His Excellency Edgar Chagwa Lungu, is a progressive thinker. The people of Zambia are warm and welcoming, eager to share information about their land,â€ Dias wrote.
The year 2015 was one where Government emphasised the need to diversify the countryâ€™s economy away from copper mining. It also prioritised tourism as one of the key sectors to drive the countryâ€™s development and to stimulate economic growth.
One of the major highlights of the year was the holding of the ZATEX by the Zambia Tourism Board (ZTB), involving 10 countries.
This was a tourism specific exhibition aimed at showcasing Zambiaâ€™s tourism products and services.
Held under the theme: Promoting tourism through collaboration not competition, the objective was to create a common platform for marketing Zambia as a tourist destination and also as a networking platform for players in the region and global tourism industry.
About 40 buyers from Africa, Asia, Middle East and Europe and five tourism boards from the region participated.
This was the inaugural event, meant to change and shape Zambia as a tourism destination.
Vice-President Inonge Wina represented President Lungu at the event.
In a speech read on his behalf, President Lungu said the robust infrastructure development programme being implemented countrywide was a demonstration of the administrationâ€™s commitment to developing the tourism sector.
The construction of roads, rail lines and airports was closely linked to tourism development.
â€œGovernment is committed to ensuring that the projects will link most tourism sites in Game Management Areas (GMAs) and national parks so that the tourism season is lengthened,â€ Mr Lungu said.
Tourism plays an important role in helping Government achieve its development agenda, hence the need to improve infrastructure and airline connectivity to various destinations.
The President expressed concern that currently, the tourism season in some national parks and GMAs is not all-year-round due to inaccessible roads.
But he was happy that the country is repositioning itself to introduce electronic visa applications, which is a global trend, with the hope of improving competitiveness in attracting tourists.
He also wants to see ZATEX transformed into an annual event that should be one of the biggest on the tourism calendar on the continent.
â€œWe hope to see ZATEXâ€¦ represented in all provinces. Government would also like to see more foreign buyers and exhibitors participate in future ZATEX,â€ he said.
The President was not done on the tourism front.
In October, he attended the first-ever Pamodzi Carnival, an initiative by the Ministry of Tourism and Arts aimed at showcasing the countryâ€™s diverse rich cultural heritage from all the 10 provinces.
The event brought together cultural dancers, traditional food caterers and handicraft producers from all the provinces of the country to showcase the countryâ€™s rich cultural heritage.
At the ceremony, Mr Lungu laid out the governmentâ€™s vision for tourism, emphasising that his administration has acknowledged tourism as the fastest growing industry in the world and culture as the major ingredient which drives the sector.
â€œWe can no longer continue thinking inside the box with the prevailing volatile economic dynamics, but instead we should continue to exploit our ingenuity,â€ he said.
He wants the Ministry of Tourism and Arts and other stakeholders in the ministry to utilise various platforms available to learn and share experiences in an effort to develop the sector.
The country is positioning itself to take advantage of the window of opportunity to increase the tourism market share by developing new and unique tourism products such as the Pamodzi Carnival.
There was one directive that should please the Visual Arts Council of Zambia (VAC) and other fine artists; the directive to all line ministries and government departments to buy and decorate their offices with Zambian artworks.
This directive also extends to missions abroad and public places like hotels.
â€œWe want to see our own Zambian stories in those decorations. This is one way of supporting, promoting and empowering Zambian artists,â€ he said.
Back to the carnival, it was an initiative that was critically thought of.
According to Minister of Tourism and Arts Jean Kapata, it was discovered that 50 percent of tourists are more interested in the culture of the people more than anything else.
This is what prompted her ministry to launch the Pamodzi Carnival, which will be held annually so that Zambians can come together and celebrate the cultural diversity.
In 2016, the carnival will include cultural groups from other countries to celebrate different cultures.
But the inaugural one was still spectacular.
It started at Woodlands Stadium and ended at the Lusaka Showgrounds. It involved 30 load beds carrying dancers from all the provinces of the country, displaying a range of dances.
Beverley Dias should have seen this.
But she experienced something different when she headed to Livingstone after attending the ZATEX in Lusaka.
In her blog, she chronicled her experience under the title â€œDiscovering Zambia With SA Express Airwaysâ€.
She blogged: â€œVictoria Falls awaited! Armed with our disposable raincoats, we headed into the heritage site. The Falls are majestic to say the least and I felt renewed after my baptism. Thank goodness for the downpour of spray which camouflaged my tears, brought on by the magnitude of the experience.
â€œIf I ever doubted Godâ€™s existence, here was all the proof I needed. After drying in the Zambian sun, we made our way to the Victoria Falls Elephant Trails where we interacted with the beautiful creatures. Sitting on an elephantâ€™s lap while feeding it is surreal. This is an experience I will always treasure and learning about how the elephants had been rescued made it all the more special.
â€œOur day ended with a tour of the Royal Livingstone Express where our good-looking guide, David, gave us a brief history lesson about this grand lady as well as what awaits guests who seek the ultimate indulgence. A trip is about four hours long and consists of their world famous five course meal, served with a wide selection of beverages.
â€œOn our last morning in Livingstone, we visited Livingstoneâ€™s Adventures where activities such as helicopter flips over the Victoria Falls are offered. Guests can also spend the day white water rafting, fishing, cruising on the Zambezi and picnicking in some beautiful spots. The following morning, we flew back to Lusaka for one final night before heading back to Durban.â€
That is why she was able to conclude that Zambia is a country of great beauty, with endless attractions and an abundance of adventures to meet any need.
This is what the country will be aiming to promote in 2016 having laid the framework in 2015.
KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka