TBY talks to Charles R. Banda, Minister of Tourism and Arts, on managing national parks, marketing, and the arts.
Zambia boasts some 19 national parks and 34 game management areas. What needs to be done to enable Zambia to reach its potential as a global tourism hub?
Zambia is blessed with a wealth of natural resources. Our game management areas (GMAs) alone cover over 22.4 million hectares. However, in order to fulfill its potential, the country must first improve its infrastructure, increase the number of bridges, and improve the road network, airports, and even airstreams. In Zambia, we have focused for a long time on the Victoria Falls, as well as other national parks in the southern areas, while neglecting the northern circuit and western and eastern provinces. However, we have begun to realize the importance of developing hospitality services across the country, and this momentum is being driven by the head of state himself. His Excellency President Lungu has transformed the Ministry of Tourism from a social ministry to an economic ministry. The fact that we now invest in tourism means we are on the path to reducing joblessness in the future.
How integral is the private sector and FDI for tourism development in Zambia, and what partnerships have been made in this domain?
Since I took up office we have engaged many people and interested investors from various parts of the globe. In Livingstone, we are developing a conference center with capacity of 5,000, as well as a five-star hotel facility. We offered 5ha of land to a Chinese investor in exchange for their expertise, signing an MoU to finalize the deal. Elsewhere, we have a group of financers from Saudi Arabia based in Dubai who will invest USD150 million in a hotel facility. Initially it was supposed to be in South Luangwa, but we seek to relocate this development to Kasaba Bay, an area that we want to develop. In general, we are aware of the important role PPPs can play in developing our tourism sector, and have come up with a business strategy we hope to complete by August 2017 that will outline our target partnerships and funding goals. These need to be assessed over a period of time, because we want to make sure we have the right end goals in our sights.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), by 2026 tourist arrivals in Zambia are expected to increase to over 2 million. How will the government provide for this number while showing commitment to preserving the natural environment?
It is extremely important to preserve the environment, protecting ecosystems, preventing deforestation, and ensuring we look after our wildlife. We do this in collaboration with the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection. One of the major challenges is poaching, which is unfortunately on the rise in Zambia. Some findings of illegal game hunting and trade by our Department of National Plants and Wildlife have found there is are estimated 4,000-6,000 poachers situated in the GMAs, which puts thousands of animals at risk. We need to ensure that we control and educate in order to reduce—even eradicate—poaching. We fund the training of about 85 game scouts across the nation, and hope to increase this number.
What categorizes the government's marketing strategy to promote tourism, both worldwide and in Zambia?
We have to embark on a vigorous marketing campaign by identifying critical markets. These critical markets include China, South Korea, India, and Russia, countries with large populations, and a high percentage of these who are interested in travel. Around 120 million people from China travel per year. We are given to understand that of the 120 million, 22 million head to Africa, which begs the question: why can't we tap into this market? That said, our aggressive approach does not ignore Europe. We have just signed a deal with the Madrid Chamber of Commerce, which will place electronic advertising in key places free of charge for two weeks in seven European cities. Local and domestic tourism is yet another aspect of tourism in Zambia that we need to work on boosting. Zambians themselves should be interested in their sites, so we need to reach out through other government agencies and ministries, such as the Ministry of Education. Increasing awareness through marketing, as well as improving human capacity in tourism, will be key if we want to see success in this sector.
Who are the main players that contribute to the Tourism Development Fund and what will be the areas targeted for funding?
The tourism fund targets the construction and maintenance of hotels and lodges and so forth through a tourism levy of 1.5% for all accommodation and events. This money, when raised, will be used within the ministry and our agencies to develop the tourism sector itself via product development, infrastructure, marketing, training, and research. We want this to be a conclusive development of roads and airports, and since we are constrained by limitations in our governmental budget, the only way to supplement this is through the tourism development fund. Our government funds in general are managed through the Bank of Zambia, but this tourism fund will be separate, with its own account at the Bank of Zambia and a committee appointed by the Ministry of Tourism, responsible for administering that fund.
What are the strategic focuses to develop the arts sector in Zambia?
The arts have been somewhat dormant in this country, which is concerning, since it is possible to develop talent through art, and through talent, job creation. Because of this, we seek to drive domestic film policy, working with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Information. We have abundant talent in this country. In the 1970s, Zambia was almost on a par with Nigeria with regard to the arts. However, now we are lagging behind. We have been flooded with Nigerian films here in Zambia. We have to wake up to the challenge, and to date, there have been no policies to drive this agenda. Our first step will be to hold a symposia calling upon those involved in the arts to find a way forward together. From there, we need to place an emphasis on art marketing and infrastructure. We do not have an art gallery in Lusaka, for example, let alone cultural centers in each of our provinces. In order to showcase our culture, performance, and dance, we need to remedy this.