OUR country’s economic diversification agenda outlined in the Seventh National Development Plan places great emphasis not only on agriculture and industrialisation, but tourism as well.
Tourism remains hugely unexploited despite the potential to transform our economy and ultimately improve the socio-economic status of majority poor Zambians.
We are encouraged by sentiments of visiting United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) secretary-general Taleb Rifai that Zambia is considered an important country to the international body.
We believe the body has identified the great tourism potential that the country sits on, which it wants to help unlock.
We are much more excited that the UNWTO secretary-general is in the country particularly to help plan development efforts in the tourism sector.
As rightly noted by Dr Rifai, tourism, if well-harnessed, has potential to transform the country’s growth efforts through job and wealth creation.
“Tourism has become such a powerful transformative force for development. It is about job creation and improving the living standards of the people. That is the reason the UN has declared 2017 the international year of sustainable tourism for development,” Dr Rifai summed it up.
Certainly, tourism is a powerful development tool which we cannot afford to ignore as a country.
Countries across the globe such as Mauritius, Seychelles and Egypt, among others, have managed to tap into the transformative power of tourism and the results are there for all to see.
We are happy that Government is cognisant of the transformation power behind tourism.
That is why Government has been working to put in place policies that support the growth of the sector.
For instance, Government recently introduced tourism levy which is aimed at funding tourism infrastructure development, among other areas.
While Government has shown political will to boost the sector as one of the alternatives in the economic diversification agenda, we feel the people charged with the responsibility of implementation have failed.
In its current state, Zambia is one of the few blessed countries, with exceptional tourist attractions.
Zambia boasts of the Victoria Falls, which is among the Seven Wonders of the world.
Apart from the Victoria Falls, Zambia also has smaller waterfalls in some parts of the country, such as Kalambo and Ntumbachushi.
Our national parks are iconic because they harbour wildlife species rare to most countries in the world.
The country also boasts of museums like Moto Moto, which houses a collection of artefacts related to Zambian culture, first collected by Canadian priest Jean Jacques Corbeil in the 1940s.
The presidential burial sites and Ing’ombe Ilede in Southern Province are all tourist attractions worth visiting.
Apart from Lake Kariba in Southern Province, we also have Lake Chila, which is of interest to historians because on its bed lies a collection of historic military weapons that have been there for more than half a century. They were dumped by soldiers from German East Africa (then Tanzania) after they surrendered belatedly to the Northern Rhodesia Rifles at the end of World War II.
While the country is richly endowed with so many unique tourist attractions, we have continued to record few tourist visits.
It is clear that as a country, we have failed to market our tourism sites to the international world.
There is no justification why a tourist should, for instance, go to a country to view a church or even pyramids in Egypt made by human hands and not consider the Victoria Falls.
We have a fully-fledged ministry and a tourism agency in place and yet we cannot harness the great potential in the sector.
As long as we cannot market our tourist attractions, we should forget about reaping significant benefits from the sector.
The Ministry of Tourism, as the driver of the sector, should work on putting up modern infrastructure to support the sites. This is because most of these sites lack supporting infrastructure.
The ministry will also do well to devise effective and all-inclusive strategies to market the country as a tourist destination of choice.
For instance, there is need to put in place deliberate policies that inculcate a sense of patriotism among citizens. There are so many Zambians globe-trotting today. If all these could help promote the country’s tourism, we would certainly be getting somewhere.
Living in the digital era, the Ministry of Tourism and Arts and other stakeholders have a powerful marketing tool of technology at their disposal.
We are optimistic that the UNWTO secretary-general’s visit will therefore help devise effective strategies to help unleash the tourism sector’s development power.
Otherwise, we are sitting on a gold mine.