By Kanni Wignaraja (UN Resident Coordinator in Zambia)
Zambia is to be a co-host of the World Tourism General Assembly to be held in 2013. The UN Secretary General, in his recent visit here, expressed happiness that Zambia and Zimbabwe will co-host this event that will bring in over 1500 delegates involved in global tourism, saying tourism was one of the important drivers for the Zambian economy that could create new jobs and spread incomes. This is especially true for a growing young population that is entering the labour market in this country. Over 50% Zambia’s population is under the age of 15 years.
Having the magnificent Victoria Falls at ones door step is a great leg-up, but it is not sufficient. A global tourism arena, that is well organised and efficient, that has a depth of service capacity and covers a multitude of diverse attractions, and that caters to a highly competitive and segmented global tourism market, is the arena Zambia steps in to. And the expectations are high.
The country has the natural beauty and natural resources that can rival any other in the region and beyond. So what does it take to capture a larger part of the global tourism market, and to remove the cloak of quiet invisibility that has shrouded it thus far? For Zambia to enter big, with a vision of being different and to stay in the game, it has to first make sense locally. We know it will be good for the country’s coffers, but it also has to be good for local communities. So, first and foremost, it means developing a tourism sector that creates a large number of decent jobs with decent pay for young people. This in turn, means that these young people enter a formal job market trained with the requisite skills to manage and run high quality tourism services and products. Some of these capacities include investing in management, customer care and public relations skills; it also includes the organisational capacities to maintain high quality travel and accommodation services; and it needs the technical skills to develop and upgrade tourism infrastructure. So tertiary and technical training institutes have to step up to this challenge and deliver this year. And then, for those thus employed, it is about being able to repeat the quality of these services and products over a long period of time. This staying power, when it comes to quality, enthusiasm and learning, is what often separates the one-offs and the also-rans from the truly exceptional tourist destinations.
Second, what will separate Zambia from many others is how it will manage the fine balance between what is a tourism revenue generator today, with what is environmentally sound and conserves the natural resource base on which the tourism sector here relies on, for the future. In line with his commitment to climate and environmental issues, the UN Secretary General began his walk into the Victoria Falls national park with the symbolic planting of a tree, bringing attention to the need for each and every Zambian to be aware of the rapid rate of deforestation that is taking out the forest cover at 250,000 hectares per year. To stop this trend, the local authorities have to ensure that illegal logging and poaching is punished severely; the national budget has to invest in renewable energy so that local communities can have viable options for affordable energy; and local communities have to engage and be supported in rapid reforestation and sustainable livelihood efforts. If not, there will soon be much less to appreciate, to protect and to live by.
Third, facilitating businesses to do their job, while the state ensures quality and safety, as a key ingredient of entering the world stage as a big player in tourism. When officially opening the One-Stop Tourism Licensing Centre in Livingston, the UN Secretary General remarked on the tremendous potential he had seen in the country, especially among the youth. And with initiatives such as this one, to further open up the market to small businesses, to ensure competition and ease the barriers and high costs to doing business in Zambia, he said one would surely see a boost to the tourism sector in the coming year. And he pledged continued UN support to these efforts, including growing sustainable business and to the sustainable development choices being made.
And fourth, and as importantly, it is about Zambia marketing its full and rich story to the world. This is a country that has been a beacon of peace and stability in a world that has often fallen apart into chaos. This is a country that has opened its doors to so many, managed their transitions across race, tribe and religion. It is, therefore, a country that has an attraction that tourists, whether from within or outside, often value more than a natural wonder or an ancient ruin – and that is a gentleness and peace, and the absence of strife. And this is a part of Zambia’s wealth and tradition, and its past and future story that makes this country an enviable tourist destination of choice.