By Nawa Mutumweno – Government sees the forthcoming hosting of the 20th United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly as a grand opportunity to further promote tourism investments and boost tourist arrivals into the country.
Tourism and Arts minister Sylvia Masebo disclosed recently that the country’s tourist capital, Livingstone, will be the biggest beneficiary of the event with the Government having released sufficient funds to improve its infrastructure.
Government is carrying a deliberate facelift of Livingstone through the improvement of roads, water and sanitation, markets, bus stations and stadiums, among others.
There are also plans to construct a convention centre which will not be used during the conference due to lack of time prior to the event.
The UNWTO conference will be co-hosted by Zambia and Zimbabwe from August 24 to 29, 2013. It will be held at the Sun International Hotel on the Zambian side and Elephants Hill Hotel in Zimbabwe.
The two countries won the joint bid to co-host the high-profile tourism event at the 19th session in Seoul, South Korea, in October 2011 after braving stiff competition from the world tourism business giants such as Russia and Japan. This is the first time the event will be held in southern Africa and second in Africa as a whole. The only other country on the continent to host the forum is Senegal.
Zambian President Michael Sata and his Zimbabwean counterpart Robert Mugabe signed the trilateral co-hosting agreement in May 2012, on behalf of their respective countries, with the UNWTO secretary general Taleb Rifai.
About 10 committees have been formed to look at various issues ranging from security, visas, general travel, publicity, promotion of the event, entertainment and improving infrastructure around the city.
The conference is expected to attract 155 member states from around the world and over 400 affiliate members from the private sector. Over 4 000 officials and non-official delegates are expected to attend the prestigious gathering, where government officials, tourism experts, corporate bodies, associations, conservationists, financiers, journalists and many other interest groups and individuals will converge.
UNWTO is the leading international tourism organisation that promotes the sector as a driver of economic growth, inclusive development and environmental sustainability and offers leadership and support to the sector in advancing knowledge and tourism policies worldwide.
It encourages the implementation of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, to maximise tourism’s socio-economic contribution while minimising its possible negative impacts, and is committed to promoting tourism as an instrument in achieving the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs).
The responsibilities of hosting the event will be shared by the two countries with the official opening taking place in Zimbabwe and the closing ceremony in Zambia.The event will also have five specialised meetings in Zimbabwe and another five in Zambia with side meetings scheduled to run during the conference.
Ms. Masebo said the event will provide an opportunity to market Zambia as a tourist destination beyond Livingstone and the Victoria Falls, one of the seven wonders of the world. It is imperative to underscore the importance of other places to the sector such as Siavonga (the Lake Kariba area), South Luangwa National Park, Kafue National Park and the emerging tourism focal point, the Northern Circuit which embraces waterfalls and other unexploited sites in the northern part of the country.
‘’Government also wants to promote arts and culture as a tourism product. We believe that there is a lot of talent in the creative industry in rural areas that needs to be harnessed, supported and developed for tourism,’’ she elaborated.
Zambia and Zimbabwe have agreed to introduce a visa free system to facilitate the flow of delegates into the two countries during the conference. High visa fees have a negative impact on the tourism sector. Therefore, countries that have low visa or visa restrictions attract more tourists.
‘’As Zambia prepares itself for the conference with Zimbabwe, Government is looking at how we can deal with the issue of visas during that time when we will have the UMWTO. There will be no visa between the two countries during the duration of the event,’’ Ms. Masebo has revealed.
On an international focus, UN resident co-ordinator Kanni Wignaraja says Zambia should as a first priority develop a highly efficient and internationally competitive tourism industry if the country is to fully benefit from this premier event.
Apart from seeing the splendour of the country’s natural beauty in terms of waterfalls, wildlife, etc., the delegates to the general assembly expect to see a well-run set-up that meets international standards. Otherwise they will continue trooping to Kenya, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe which seem to have a more developed tourism product.
‘’We need a tourism service at the level of efficiency and international standard because when people come to see the Victoria Falls or the amazing wildlife, they will also expect to see a well-run set-up service. So when these large tour operators come in large numbers, the country should not only showcase its natural beauty but also the people skills and capabilities to manage the tourism sector efficiently and competitively,’’ she elaborated.
For the tourism industry to be fully developed, it must be locally-driven and supported with management skills and incentives as all countries that have succeeded have utilised local support as it is the communities around tourism sites that know them best.
Meanwhile, the National Arts Council (NAC) chairperson Mulenga Kapwepwe said Government has engaged artists in the preparation for the event and made available resources to help Zambians with skills.
The theme for the conference for NAC is ‘Take Zambia home with you’. The ministry has since released funds for the production of a DVD on ‘Investing in Zambia’s art’.
Funds have also been released for the Council to produce local music, mobilise crafts countrywide, and build a culture gallery where people can buy arts across the country.
And delegates to the UNWTO general assembly who will take time off to visit the Victoria Falls in Livingstone should expect a treat of a lifetime as the world heritage site is about to receive a major facelift, according to the National Heritage Conservation Commission (NHCC).
In a bid to uplift the site to world-class standards, the Commission has invited bids from prospective contractors to carry out civil works around the site to improve security and sanitation as well as enhance its aesthetic aspect.
NHCC chief executive officer Collins Chipote disclosed that the institution is erecting a steel fence from the bridge near the entrance to the first gate of the Zambezi Sun Hotel to improve security. Other works include the rehabilitation of foot trails and construction of new ones where necessary, and putting up barriers at all the viewing points to prevent accidents.
The institution will work closely with the media to promote various heritage sites across the country as a way of marketing its tourism to both the local and international markets.
The event should not only be seen as a one-off meeting but an opportunity to create jobs around it by investing in the building of more roads, hotels, roads, lodges and promoting the arts and crafts.
‘’The conference is good for Zambia as it puts us on the world map and raises the tourism profile of the country. Zambia will be known as one of the best destinations in the world. It is our hope that after this conference, we can attract many tourists. The importance of conserving our tourism and the sustainable management of our resources is cardinal,’’ Ms. Masebo emphasised.
If well executed, this event will act as a magnet that will attract tourists from far and yonder and place tourism at the nucleus of the country’s economic development. Zambian tourism is a hidden gem that needs to be excavated and exhibited for it to permeate to all corners of the globe.
As the country’s tourism slogan asserts, Let‘s explore’ and bask in Zambia’s rich wildlife, natural resources and cultural heritage. You will definitely discover the real Africa!