STUART LISULO, Lusaka
TOURISM in Zambia, like many other sectors, remains constrained with challenges that prevent further growth of the countryâ€™s economy.
According to the Ministry of Tourism and Arts, Zambiaâ€™s national parks continue to be affected by rampant poaching and continuous encroachment.
Data from the ministry shows that Kafue National Park has an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 poachers from households situated in game management areas (GMAs).
â€œResearch findings on illegal game hunting and bush meat trade by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) reveal that there were about 4,000 to 6,000 poachers from households situated in the GMAs around Kafue National Park,â€ according to a statement issued by Ministry of Tourism and Arts public relations officer Sakabilo Kalembwe.
â€œMost of the bush meat from poaching is sold out of the area as people interviewed indicated that 85 percent of their food supplies was sourced from crops and not wildlife. Seventy three percent of poachers use military firearms while 13 percent use wire snares. It had been established that poachers access firearms both legally and illegally.â€
He stated that illegal hunting also goes beyond just traditional poachers.
â€œThere is also illegal hunting which is conducted by licensed hunters. Licensed hunters harvested twice as much as the allocation of the quota. This had been attributed to monitoring which had been compromised due to poor salaries which were also irregular. Despite the poachers indicating that the risk of being arrested was high, actual arrests were low,â€ Mr Kalembwe added.
He further noted that the problem of illegal game hunting and bush meat was exacerbated by high demand from consumers on the local market.
â€œPoached meat was mostly traded in Copperbelt [towns], Livingstone and Lusaka. Other contraband goes as far as neighbouring countries such as the DRC where demand is very high. Despite consumers being aware that most bush meat was illegally sourced and associated with health risks, they have continued consuming it,â€ he explained.
Minister of Tourism and Arts Charles Banda has this year also expressed sadness at the illicit activities taking place in Lochinvar National Park.
Lochinvar is Zambiaâ€™s fourth smallest national park after Lusaka, Kasanka, and Mosi-Oa-Tunya.
It is exceptionally beautiful and has outstanding bird-watching opportunities with over 420 recorded species in its 428 square kilometres.
Situated on the southern edge of the Kafue Flats, the park has a wide floodplain off the Kafue River between Itezhi-tezhi Dam in the west, and Kafue Gorge in the east.
The area extends for 33 kilometres from the Kafue River in the north to low-wooded hills in the south, and includes the large, shallow Chunga Lagoon which fluctuates considerably in size with variations in river levels.
But speaking after touring the wildlife sanctuary last Wednesday, Mr Banda confirmed that there are a lot of illegalities taking place in the area as the park is highly-encroached with permanent settlers and a poaching problem.
â€œThe discovery is that there are more than 6,000 households. We are not talking about people, members per se, but households, meaning that each household may have 10 to 12 people. Now if there [are] 6,000, multiply that by 10 or 12, how many people have encroached this area?â€ Mr Banda asked in a statement issued by the ministry.
He noted that animals cannot survive with such statistics of illegal settlers and that it is clear why there is a high decline in the Kafue Lechwe population that stood at about 250,000 in 1931, according to data from the ministry.
â€œToday, the population of the said species, which is endemic to Zambia, is about 28,400, according to the 2015 aerial survey report,â€ the ministry stated.
Mr Banda noted that there is need for a vigorous campaign to market Zambia as a tourist destination, particularly in view of these challenges.
Speaking when United States (US) Ambassador to Zambia Eric Schultz and Finnish Ambassador Timo Olkkonen paid a courtesy call on him at his office in January this year, Mr Banda said a Spanish company will market Zambia starting in March for two weeks in 70 different cities of Europe, targeting about 500 million people as a tourist destination of choice.
Another component constraining growth in the industry is the 16 percent tourism Value Added Tax (VAT) that is viewed by industry experts as a serious drawback in the countryâ€™s tourism industry, mainly because it makes Zambia less competitive in the region as prices correspondingly went up by 16 percent.
The tax was effected on January 1, 2014, and has meant an expense of an additional 16 percent allocated to VAT on all tourism packages and activities, whereas previously VAT on tourism in the country was at zero percent.
It has applied to bookings for safaris and game-viewing, including unique Zambian offerings such as walking with lions, canoeing, helicopter tours and boat cruising.
But according to the 2017 national budget, the Government is set to implement the Tourism Development Fund as provided for in the Tourism and Hospitality Act to support tourism product development, tourism infrastructure and marketing intended to enhance the sectorâ€™s contribution to employment and wealth generation.
Further, government has additionally pledged to work this year to transform Livingstone into a premier conferencing centre in Southern Africa to leverage on the infrastructure developments that have been undertaken.
While international passenger movements across all four major airports in Zambia increased by over four percent in 2016 to over 1.3 million, mainly buoyed by strong passenger volumes at Livingstoneâ€™s Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport, domestic passenger movements recorded a negative growth of 7.2 percent, according to data from the Zambia Airports Corporation Limited (ZACL).
This indicates that local tourists are not travelling around the country as much as their foreign counterparts, and reflects the countryâ€™s harsh economic climate.
Domestic passenger movements were 274,344 compared to international passenger movements at 1,347,919.
Moreover, the increased international tourists travelling to Zambia are mainly on account of the Nairobi-Livingstone-Cape Town route operated by Kenya Airways, which is performing well, according to ZACL.
Overall, what is clear is that the bottlenecks facing Zambiaâ€™s tourism sector can only be rigorously addressed with sound economic governance and a key focus on promoting local destinations, while favourably responding to important regulatory and tax concerns from the private sector that still undermine growth and development of the industry. SUMA SYSTEMS
STUART LISULO, Lusaka