CHIMWEMWE MWALE, Lusaka
IT HAS become clear after his death that President Sata will be fondly remembered for spurring tangible development in various sectors of the countryâ€™s economy.
One such key sector is tourism, which indisputably is seen as a locked treasure that requires unravelling as it can significantly turn around the countryâ€™s fortunes and contribute to the gross domestic product (GDP) as is the case in other countries like Kenya.
This is in view of what has been observed over the years as â€˜overdependency on copperâ€™, a diminishing asset that will all be dug out some time in future.
During the official opening of the Fourth Session of the Eleventh National Assembly last month, President Sata said Zambiaâ€™s tourism sector has immense potential for increasing revenue collection.
Mr Sata added that the sector is also capable of delivering decent jobs to the people of Zambia because it is laborious and labour- intensive in nature.
â€œI am glad to inform this august House that growth in this sector has been positive in recent years. In 2013, tourist arrivals increased by 6.5 percent to over 900,000. Preliminary data for 2014 shows that this number will be surpassed as at end-June 2014,â€ he pointed out.
Tourist arrivals in the country are estimated at over 455,000, which is over five percent higher than the same period in 2013.
The President said Government will continue to improve infrastructure around the country to help unlock the massive potential for employment in the tourism sector.
Among the key infrastructures are airports, electricity connectivity and access roads to tourist areas, particularly those along the Northern Circuit, Lower Zambezi and Kafue National Park.
â€œAs regards airport infrastructure, Government is expanding and upgrading the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka and will construct a new airport at Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe in Ndola. Plans are also underway to rehabilitate a number of aerodromes across the country to increase access by air,â€ Mr Sata said.
And during the momentous 20th United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly that was co-hosted by Zambia and Zimbabwe in August 2013, President Sata called on countries in southern Africa to open up their borders to attract tourists and enhance regional tourism.
He pointed out that this must be done through the introduction of a common regional visa or visa-free regimes to bolster tourist arrivals in the region.
Zambia and Zimbabwe agreed to pilot the Uni-visa arrangement under which they will have a common visa for visitors from other countries.
The development is aimed at strengthening relations between Zambia and Zimbabwe and further provide an opportunity for both countries to jointly market their tourism products.
Some key players in the tourism industry are optimistic and hopeful that the enthusiasm and desire exhibited by President Sata to fully awaken the industry will be kept alive after his demise.
Senior Chief Mukuni of the Toka-Leya people of Kazungula in Southern Province said Mr Sataâ€™s desire to develop Zambiaâ€™s tourism sector should not be abandoned.
Chief Mukuni observed that President Sataâ€™s passion for the development of tourism was affirmed when he separated the Ministry of Tourism and Arts from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which he had earlier merged.
â€œPresident Sata wanted to ensure that tourism was marketed fully in Livingstone and Zambia as a whole when he separated the two ministries,â€ the traditional leader noted.
President Sata had also decided to move the provincial capital from Livingstone to Choma in a bid to ensure that Livingstone operates as a fully-fledged tourist capital of Zambia.
Chief Mukuni said President Sataâ€™s successor should ensure that more deliberate efforts continue being channelled towards the tourism sector to maintain the momentum of â€˜swingingâ€™ the industry into full motion.
He said the ambitious countrywide road construction projects such as the Link Zambia 8000 and others initiated by President Sata should be prioritised as a good road network is key to opening up various tourism sites around the country.
â€œUnder President Sataâ€™s leadership and with the road network programme he embarked on, he meant to open up the whole of Zambia to tourism. So to me, he was on the right track to developing tourism across the country.
â€œWhat we need to work towards is to prioritise infrastructure development such as roads, airports and hotels around sites such as lakes Kariba, Tanganyika and Mweru and national parks, among other sites. We need to open all provinces to tourism,â€ he said.
Chief Mukuni said Government should also consider relocating the Ministry of Tourism and Arts, including tourism related institutions such as the Zambia Wildlife Authority and Zambia Tourism Board, to Livingstone.
The traditional leader said this will help â€˜fortifyâ€™ Livingstone as a fully-fledged tourist capital and effectively administer the tourism sector.
President Sataâ€™s dream for a booming tourism industry was without doubt a sunny one which has started blooming as evidenced by the increased number of tourist arrivals in the country.
CHIMWEMWE MWALE, Lusaka