FRANCIS LUNGU, Lusaka
ZAMBIA’S tourism sector remains and continues to be one of the country’s economic growth and development areas with an estimation of slightly over 200, 000 jobs having been created by 2017.
The direct contribution of travel and tourism to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016 stood at K6.9billion (US$6million), representing 3.2 percent of total GDP.
Annual tourism sector involvement in economic growth was forecast to rise by 5.6 percent from 2017 to 2027, to be rising around K12.5billion (US$1.2billion), according to projected figures from the Ministry of Tourism and Arts.
The ministry states that in 2016, travel and tourism directly supported 115, 000 jobs, representing 1.9 percent of total employment but the projections for 2017 were that employment contribution from the sector would enormously increase by 7.7 percent and create 206, 000 jobs.
Zambia’s tourism potential draws from its natural environment, from which abound a variety of tourism attractions ranging from waterfalls, the wealth of wildlife spread out in the country’s 20 national parks and 34 game management reserves with a total surface area of 65,000 square kilometres.
Furthermore, the country boasts of vast lakes and rivers, one of the largest concentrations of bird species in the world, a rich cultural heritage and several monuments dotted around the country.
To avow this strong tourism position and ensure continued growth of the sector, Minister of Tourism and Arts Charles Banda says a number of combined developmental activities are already taking place.
According to Mr Banda, the good starting point to boosting the tourism sector is the huge allocation of K15.6million in the 2017 national budget for tourism marketing.
The upped figure shows Government’s commitment as in 2014, only K600,000 was apportioned to market Zambia’s tourism, both locally and abroad.
Additionally, Mr Banda says his ministry is poised to rake in the targeted K11million revenue from Tourism Levy for 2018.
From April to December last year, the Ministry of Tourism and Arts managed to raise K10.1million out of the K11million mark.
“By December, 2018, we are likely to raise the K11million [target] because we started in January unlike the previous year were we started late. The money is used to market the country’s tourism industry,” he says.
Marketing and putting into the right perspective Zambia’s richness in terms of tourism attraction to the outside world is key in guaranteeing meaningful growth of the sector, the minister says.
For instance, the kingpin of Zambia’s tourism attraction; the mighty Victoria Falls in Livingstone has been poorly marketed to an extent that the outside world think the falls is in the neighbouring Zimbabwe or even in South Africa.
“Yet 1.2kilometres stretch of the total 1.7kilometres of the falls in on the Zambian side. Only 0.5kilometers is on the Zimbabwean side but the world think the falls is in other countries. All this is because our friends [Zimbabwe] have marketed well,” Mr Banda said.
The minister was speaking recently when he addressed Lusaka-based journalists during the Patriotic Front (PF) Forum, a platform that hosts different officials to explain Government’s policies and developmental programmes.
“Imagine in Johannesburg [South Africa], you find a bill board saying ‘welcome to the mighty Victoria Falls, two hours away from Johannesburg,’ as if the falls is in that country. They fly tourists to Livingstone to see the falls and make revenue out of it,” he says.
However, the minister says the perception that the Victoria Falls is in other countries rather than Zambia is likely to change with the increased funding towards tourism marketing.
He says Zambia is expected to hit the 1.3million tourist arrivals mark for 2018 going by the previous year’s record of 1.1million foreign tourists that visited the country.
The ministry being one of the vital economic pillars alongside agriculture, mining and manufacturing, is responsible to reasonably contribute to the country’s GDP, according to Mr Banda.
“It is not business as usual, it is a transformation agenda we
have embarked on as a country,” he says.
Zambia has a lot of advantages as regards to tourism because the country is richly endowed with cultural and bio-diversity heritage, with 20 national parks endowed with a variety of wildlife species.
Singling out the Kasanka National Park along Tuta road from Serenje in Central Province going to Mansa in Luapula Province, the minister says marketing is needed for the international community to know more about the world’s largest bat migration, a spectacle of over 12million bats that takes place in the park from October to December of every year.
According to Kasanka National Park wildlife officer David Mubiana, the park needs hospitality related infrastructure to efficiently manage accommodate and host crowds that come for the bat migration.
“Management should put up infrastructure like good lodges, chalets and again from there, we should bring in more different species of animals to attract more tourists,” Mr Mubiana says.
He recalls that during last season’s bat migration, the park received around 300 foreign visitors with a huge number of locals attending, too.
The bats are said to migrate to Kasanka National Park especially to eat ‘special’ masuku, a traditional wild fruit and also to breed.
During the bat migration period, Mr Mubiana says Kasanka National Park receives three categories of tourists who are locals, residents [foreign tourists but based in Zambia] and non-residents coming from different countries for holiday.
Furthermore, the minister of Tourism and Art says Zambia is positioning itself very well even through infrastructure development to handle future tourists’ influx.
The new Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, whose construction is nearing completion, is one of the cornerstones of tourism promotion as it will bring on board enhanced capacity to handle several flights both landing and taking off.
“The airport is being prepared for more arrivals. By the time Zambia is hosting the AU [African Union] summit in 2022, we will be more prepared,” he says.
Tourism industry is at the centre of Zambia’s economic growth and development in that all other sectors such as agriculture, sports, commerce, and mining can help in promoting the country’s tourism to the outside world, Mr Banda says.
He called for tourism products operators to make the services affordable for locals to access in order to boost domestic tourism and enable Zambians to appreciate what their country has.
Zambia’s tourism sector has been given the non-traditional export status and is receiving a lot of support from the government by way of infrastructure development, promotion of increased private sector participation, as well as attractive tax incentives for all investments in the sector.
Positioning for tourist influx
FRANCIS LUNGU, Lusaka