THE printing of 50,000 unified visas for foreign visitors to Zambia and Zimbabwe is welcome as it is a vital step towards boosting tourist visits to the two countries.
The visa, which is commonly known as the Kavango Zambezi Trans- Frontier Conservation Area (KAZA), allows tourists to enter Zambia and Zimbabwe using one document.
The KAZA visa will be available through the Immigration Department to citizens from 65 countries who include those eligible to receive visas on arrival in both Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Minister of Finance Felix Mutati says eligible visitors under the initiative will only be issued with one visa, stocked by both Zambia and Zimbabwe.
As rightly pointed out by the minister, the issuance of the KAZA visas will no doubt contribute to increased tourist inflows and subsequently revenue.
It is well acknowledged that the issuance of KAZA visas will help increase tourist visits due to reduced cost of coming to Zambia.
However, it should also be noted that if Zambia is to fully harness the potential in tourism, issuance of KAZA visas is just one of the many measures that should be taken.
Zambia is endowed with natural tourist attractions.
The country boasts of being home to one of the seven natural wonders of the world – the Victoria Falls. It also has numerous other spectacular waterfalls.
The country also has national parks with rare animal species and a rich cultural heritage.
It is indisputable that Zambia has so much to offer in the tourism sector.
However, over the years, Zambia has remained one of the least considered tourist destinations in the world.
For instance, according to the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, international tourist visits to the south Kafue Park in 2014 were 890, in 2015 the number rose to 1,124 and in 2016 the figure was 1,218 tourists.
Although the tally is increasing, it is not enough to turn the tourism sector into a money spinner that it is.
One of the major impediments to the growth of tourism is the cost of doing business due to tax obligations.
While it is inevitable for Government to collect taxes from businesses in the hospitality industry, it will do well to broaden the tax base in order to give investors in the tourism sector relief.
This will encourage more investments in the sector and tourist visits.
As it is now, Zambia’s lodging rates are uncompetitive compelling tourists to cross into Zimbabwe where prices are much lower.
Despite being endowed with so many tourist attractions, Zambia has not fared well in marketing these.
And as such, many potential markets do not know what the country offers in terms of tourism.
Zambia certainly needs to invest more in marketing itself as a preferred tourist destination to the international world.
More resources should be allocated to tourism marketing to compete better with other countries, especially those in the region.
According to Zambia Tourist Agency, this year’s allocation for both local and international advertising is about US$600,000.
On the other hand, Zambia’s competitors in the region, such as Botswana and Namibia, spent between US$8 million and US$12 million.
South Africa spent between US$80 million and US$200 million.
The amounts of investment our competitors are putting into marketing tourism certainly speak volumes of why they are far much ahead of Zambia.
A national airline is also necessary because lack of direct flights from market sources is also a major factor in pushing the price of tourism up. Unfortunately, even local flights are expensive.
Increased investment in tourism is inevitable if Zambia is to turn the industry into a money-spinner.
What is comforting is that whatever amount of investment is required is worth it, given the potential that lies in the industry.
Tourism has potential to turn the wheels of Zambia’s economy if well harnessed.
Zambia just needs to focus on removing all the bottlenecks hindering the country from reaping the benefits of this lucrative sector.
For certain, the issuance of KAZA visas is a step in the right direction.