MARGARET CHISANGA, Lusaka
IN THAT moment, when explorer David Livingstone gazed upon the magnificence of a 1,708 kilometre stretch of water seemingly creating a curtain as it cascaded over a 108 metre high cliff, heaven must have opened a great light upon the country’s tourism industry that draws millions of tourists towards Zambia to encounter this natural wonder.
“It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight,” Dr Livingstone wrote of the falls, and in doing so placed on the hearts of many, the desire to witness such a wonder.
This desire has seen the breathtaking falls, named as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, feature on the bucket list of millions of people who want to gaze upon this sight before they join Dr Livingstone’s angels, literally.
In 1947 at the tender age of 21, the present Queen of England, Elizabeth II, and her family visited the falls named after her grandmother Queen Victoria. Sixty-five years later, in September 2012 her daughter, Princess Anne, visited Zambia and the falls as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
In August 2017, the Queen’s grandson, Prince Harry, arrived on a romantic holiday with his then girlfriend, and the beautiful scenery might well have saved as the perfect backdrop for a royal engagement.
English Royalty is not the only one drawn to the falls, as American popular Hollywood star and musician Will Smith came to Zambia to see the falls in 2017. He commemorated it with adrenalin pumping bungee jump.
Bungee jumping is an offshoot of the many tourism activities that have been developed around Zambia’s most precious site. Other leisure activities include a helicopter flight over the Victoria Falls and a visit to the island.
“The wonderful thing about Zambia is that its tourism joys do not end with the Victoria Falls,” says Minister of Tourism and Arts, Charles Banda.
Speaking during the National visual arts exhibition to commemorate events to mark Zambia’s 54th Independence Anniversary, Mr Banda said the country abounds with numerous things depicted in paintings, drawings, carvings, sculptures and other visual arts.
“These are an important aspect of our heritage and culture, representing a unique and irreplaceable body of values, norms and practices which draw millions of people to witness and share it,” he said.
Over the years, the country has recorded an increase in the number of tourists who witness traditional ceremonies and take artefacts and curios. Traditional ceremonies which are also major tourist attractions include the Kuomboka of the Lozi poeple of Western Province.
The Zambia Tourism Agency has over the years extensively advertised the other waterfalls in the country, and it seems tourists are learning about this and coming in droves to visit.
“Zambia is one of the most water-rich countries in Africa and her many rivers cascade into fabulous displays of falling water as they wind over the undulating landscape. The most spectacular is of course the not-to-be-missed Victoria Falls, but there are 17 other beautiful falls dotted around the country,” the Zambiatourism.com site reads.
Aside from the waterfalls, Zambia has plenty of wildlife headed by the king of the jungle – the lion.
“Within Livingstone itself, the Mosi-oa-Tunya game park offers tourists an opportunity to enjoy the vast wildlife resources, varied scenery, wilderness,” the Zambia Tourism Agency states.
The Mosi-oa-Tunya is only one of the 19 national parks and 34 game management areas covering over 22.4 million hectares across the country.
Of these, the South Luangwa boasts of having the largest number of animals concentrated in one area.
According to the Zambia Tourism Agency, there are 60 different animal species and over 400 different bird species in South Luangwa National Park.
The place swarms with such wildlife; it’s akin to being right in the middle of the 1994 American animated epic musical film The Lion King, in the scene where elephants, kudus and buffaloes sing in the valley.
Eastern Province Minister Makebi Zulu said according to September 2017 statistics , the Department of National Parks and Wildlife in the province generated revenue of about K22.4 million from 27,720 foreign tourists and 67, 444 local tourists.
The potential of the national park has not gone unnoticed in the international community. In 2017, United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Secretary General Taleb Rifai declared South Luangwa National Park as a park committed to sustainable tourism, the first to be declared as such in the world.
This is set to create a positive move in sustainable tourism development in Zambia.
“The declaration of South Luangwa as a park committed to sustainable tourism means that the sanctuary has proved that it has the potential to meet the current tourism needs for the people and those of future generations,” he said.
Other parks that draw in tourists include the Kafue, Lower Zambezi and Kasanka.
Further development of tourism in Zambia
In order to diversify the Zambian economy and promote the tourism sector, the Government is developing the Northern Tourism Circuit that includes Luapula, Northern and part of Muchinga Province. This is being done through the rehabilitation of infrastructure such as airports, roads and communication facilities.
Kasama Central Member of Parliament Kelvin Sampa says Northern Province is an integral tourism area in Zambia.
“It is important that the little-known potential tourism sites be exploited to the fullest. This region has Chishimba Falls, Von Lettow Vorbeck National Monument and Mwela Rocks Art Paintings, which are naturalistic and schematic paintings made by the Batwa people long before the Bantu settled in Kasama,” he said in a recent interview.
Mr Sampa said that there are over 700 rock paintings on the outcrop of Mwela, giving it a rich concentration of basic rock artwork in southern Africa.
There are many more unexplored tourism potentials in Zambia and the Government is working to develop them.
“The Government is also working towards developing Kasaba Bay Tourism project that includes Sumbu National Park, parts of Tondwa and Kaputa Game Management areas, Iyendew Valley and Sumbu Township,” he said.
“Zambia’s wilderness is characterised by the vastness of unexploited areas, such as the rift valleys of the Luangwa and Zambezi Rivers and their escarpments; mountain highlands, such as the Nyika and Mafinga; vast wetlands in the Bangweulu, Kafue and Zambezi floodplains; and the fact that most wilderness occurs in protected areas, showing the real parts of natural Africa,” the Zambiatourism website reads.
Since independence, copper and agriculture have continued to be the main economic boosters of the country. But from 2006 to 2010, the Ministry of Tourism put in place set up stringent measures to ensure the growth of the industry to contribute to development in a viable manner.
Zambia’s tourism sector structure comprises several types of enterprises, including lodges, hotels, tour operators, guest houses and transport providers. There are several large international franchises and chains in Zambia, including Southern Sun, Protea Hotels, Intercontinental and Taj Group.
There are also numerous small luxury lodges owned by foreigners and many small informal enterprises. Overall, Zambian tourism sector is dominated by small and medium sized operators that are well integrated vertically.
International operators continue to play a role in the tourism of the country through provision of services such as flights, marketing and representation.
Government is also investing extensively and effectively in the marketing strategy to create awareness and demand of tourism opportunities in Zambia. The country is being represented at various international exhibitions and fairs to expand interaction with different potential tourists.
But the best aspects of Zambia’s tourism are in its people, its diverse culture and national heritage, good weather, adventure activities, hunting, and warm and friendly people.
Zambia has 73 tribes with diverse cultural traditions which include a variety of annual traditional ceremonies.
As the minister of Tourism said, it is the people who are best set to implement the theme for this year’s independence celebrations, which is ‘To celebrate a shared future of unity, development and prosperity’.
MARGARET CHISANGA, Lusaka