SAKABILO KALEMBWE, Mfuwe
EVERY good story has both conflict and climax, and there is no better way to end anything but on a climax.
The visit of United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Secretary General Taleb Rifai marked a high for sustainable tourism development in Zambia.
His visit was first announced towards the end of the first quarter of the year but generated interest in the last three months. And it was no ordinary visit.
Dr Rifai’s visit marked a landmark development on the tourism calendar because part of his mission to Zambia was to declare South Luangwa National Park as a park committed to sustainable tourism, the first to be declared as such in the world.
Hundreds of people witnessed the occasion, among them Chief Kankumbi of the Kunda people, who commended Government and the UNWTO for recognising the efforts of his chiefdom in championing sustainable tourism development.
Dr Rifai also took advantage of his visit to flag off the 3rd Edition of the Pamodzi Carnival and address the Year of Sustainable Tourism Conference that was graced by President Edgar Lungu.
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 the future generations.
Dr Rifai emphasised that this did not mean that people should slow down development but that they should be able to use the available resources to develop in a sustainable manner.
The UNWTO chief said sustainable tourism development cannot thrive without involving the local community.
He said there is no country in the world that has made it tourism-wise without engaging the local people. He said this last week when he declared South Luangwa National Park as the world’s first pearl dedicated to sustainable tourism development.
But what is sustainable tourism all about?
Sustainable tourism borrows from the concept of sustainable development, which the UN World Commission on Environment and Development in the Bruntland report of 1987 says “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
In 1992, the concept behind this definition was adopted to become a required guide for general ecological, social and economic development for UN member states at the Rio de Janeiro United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.
Based on this concept, sustainable tourism development refers to tourism that meets the social, cultural, ecological and economic requirements of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
According to a paper by Nature Friends International, the objective of sustainable tourism development is to meet all areas of sustainable development – ecological, social and cultural issues in tourism.
Sustainability in tourism has seven pillars according to Muller (1999). These are economic well-being, the right of future generations to create their future, ideal satisfaction of the guests’ needs, intact future, subjective well-being of local and employees as well as a functioning environment cum protection of resources.
To be recognised as a national park that is committed to sustainable tourism means that South Luangwa has demonstrated potential to meet ecological, economic, social and cultural needs of all stakeholders in the current and future generations.
“There can be no true meaning of tourism if it does not benefit the local people in the community. We want to see more engagement and involvement of the local community in sustainable tourism. This declaration is the first to be done in the whole world,” Dr Rifai said at the event in South Luangwa.
He further called on Zambians to preserve and conserve the wildlife for the benefit of future generations.
Dr Rifai commended Government for preserving South Luangwa National Park and maintaining it as the most prestigious tourism destination of choice.
And Minister of Tourism and Arts Charles Banda said Zambia has set a precedent being the first country on the Africa continent and the world-over to dedicate its national park and the surrounding areas as suitable for sustainable tourism development.
He said 2017 has been declared as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development and the dedication has been made in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“As member of the UNWTO, we should be challenged to respond to the need to incorporate and work towards the goals of sustainable tourism in our planning processes for sustainable tourism development,” Mr Banda said.
The minister, however, acknowledged the work being done by the private sector and non-governmental organisations in South Luangwa in ensuring that tourism continues to be the driver for economic prosperity and poverty eradication among the local people. He said sustainable tourism requires the involvement of all stakeholders therefore, the local communities should ensure that they do not harm the natural habitat and wildlife in South Luangwa National Park.
Mr Banda said the major source of income for people in South Luangwa is tourism hence they need to be sensitised on the value and benefits of conservation and sustainability.
Eastern Province Minister Makebi Zulu said the province will work at maintaining the status of South Luangwa as a natural wildlife sanctuary managed using a public-private partnership approach.
The private sector, local community and Government, too, cannot afford to have anything go wrong to wildlife and its natural habitat because tourism is actually a big income-earner for Eastern Province.
Mr Zulu said current statistics show that as at September 2017, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife in the province generated revenue of about K22.4million from 27,720 foreign tourists and 6,7444 local tourists.