Tourism : Stay a Little Longer (The Africa Report n°30 – May 2011)

Zambia’s tourism professionals are banking on improvements in infrastructure and services to lead to greater tourism revenues.

There is no shortage of wonders to visit in Zambia, but the problem is getting to them. Despite its 19 national parks and 23 waterfalls, including the thundering might of Victoria Falls at Livingstone, tourists tend to stay for an average of only six days, put off by the poor road infrastructure and a lack of domestic flights. Now the sector is a key part of the government’s diversification drive. The aim is to tempt visitors to stay for 14 days and spend more cash.

Dwarfed by the value of copper revenues, tourism contributes just 2.2% of Zambia’s GDP. There were 815,000 visitors in 2010, up 15% on 2009 despite the global financial crisis, but still short of the magic one million mark. The Zambia Tourism Board (ZTB) is aiming for 3.5 million visitors by 2017, which it says would bring in revenues of $6bn and around 1m direct jobs to the sector.

Peak tourist time is the dry season between April and November. During the rains, roads to prime game viewing in South Luangwa National Park become impassable. As part of a programme of improvements, roads and bridges are being rehabilitated, a military base at Mbala is being turned into an international airport and a new $161.4m hydropower station at Lunzua is due to be finished by the end of 2012.

ZTB is currently searching for a new brand to replace Zambia’s 31-year-old logo and slogan, « Zambia – the real Africa ». Tourism minister Catherine Namugala has won new resources for marketing, which has been perennially underfunded. Timothy Mushibwe, chairman of ZTB, said it had received unprecedented funding of K11.9 bn ($2.5m) for tourism promotion in 2011, up from K3.4bn in 2010. Zambia must « use this money wisely and cleverly in order to pluck the fruits of the tourism tree we have been watering, » he said.

Within the next two years, bed spaces in Zambia are expected to rise from 19,000 to 22,000. Lusaka has been waiting for the opening of a 142-bed, $40m five-star Radisson Blu Hotel since last year, but funding complications arising from the collapse of the Finance Bank of Zambia have pushed back its launch until December.

A lack of domestic airline capacity still hampers growth. The only internal flights are operated by Proflight Zambia, whose tiny planes ferry tourists and mining executives across the country. The other national airline, Zambezi Airlines, now only runs regional routes. However, international airlines are increasing their capacity. In January, Egypt Air launched four weekly flights into Lusaka from Cairo via Dar es Salaam. Ethiopian Airlines and RwandAir are also scheduled to start flights to Lusaka, and Kenya Airways is also increasing its flight frequency.

Chiwoyu Sinyangwe in Lusaka

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