WITH OPEN ARMS

Zambia 2017 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Hon. Charles R. Banda, Minister of Tourism and Arts, on the wealth of tourism destinations within Zambia, efforts to bring more visitors to the country, and what the Tourism Development Fund will contribute to developments.

Hon. Charles R. Banda
BIOGRAPHY
Hon. Charles R. Banda holds a master’s in mass communication, a bachelor’s in mass communication, a diploma in journalism, and a certificate in diplomatic studies. He worked as a broadcaster from 1978 to 1997. He was a member of parliament from 2001 to 2006, and was appointed to the position of Provincial Minister in 2012. In 2013 he was appointed as High Commissioner to Malawi. In 2016, he was once again elected to parliament as Minister for Tourism and Art. He has also held lecturing positions at the University of Zambia from 2010 to 2012 in the Department of Mass Communication.

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 ha. 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 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 the head of state himself is driving this momentum. HE 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 its 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.

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 and 22 million head to Africa, which begs the question; why can't we tap into this market? Our 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. 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 through a tourism levy of 1.5% for all accommodation and events. This money will be used within the ministry and our agencies to develop the tourism sector 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.