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Friday, 19 December 2008

Tourism - can the diaspora help?

The new Tourism Minister, Catherine Namugala is calling on Zambians abroad to help market Zambia abroad. I have not seen the full "statement", but if this represents a new vision for a tourism strategy that incorporates the diaspora, then it is very welcome indeed. This is one of the areas that came up in the Zambia Diaspora E-Conference 2008 :

Minister appeals to Zambians (ZNBC News, 18 December 2008) : Tourism Minister, Catherine Namugala, has urged Zambians living abroad to help the government market the country's tourism potential. Ms. Namugala says Zambians in the diaspora can be excellent agents of marketing the country. The Minister says much of the world is still ignorant about the geographical position of Zambia and its profile. This is according to a statement released to ZNBC news in Lusaka by Public Relations Officer in the Ministry of Tourism, Bwalya Nondo. The Minister said while Zambian Missions abroad are doing their part to market the country, zambians abroad can also help to sell the country.

6 comments:

  1. I try! But as I am 15000 km away, it is hard to talk my neighbors onto planes! They are quite willing to buy Zambian products if they can find them however, so here's an open suggestion:

    Craft artisans such as these pictured here, at Lusaka's Kabwata Cultural Centre on Burma Road could be shifting a lot more of this merchandise for a lot more money if someone computer savvy can get over there and help them tap into world markets through fair trade outfits such as Novica.com, no need to wait for tourists to come to your town.

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  2. I once saw a play, I cannot recall the title, about a team of four men whose job was to paint a bridge. The bridge was so large, that by the time they finished painting to one end, the paint at the other end was already wearing off, so they never stopped painting. The lesson about infrastructure never left me: bridges don't just stay built. Maintenance has to be paid for, or the initial investment will be wasted, and in the Zambian case, this means that infrastructure must pay for itself, the taxpayers cannot afford otherwise.

    It seems to be the nature of human society that elites form over time, and the most common thing among them is a predilection for consumption of luxury in all its forms. Zambia cannot afford luxury for luxury's own sake, yet it appears inevitable that to some extent the cream of the nation's economic milk will always be skimmed for the purpose. Yes I am being cynical, but I also hope realistic. I suppose what I am trying to say is that I prefer luxury "tourist" accommodations which double as retreats for the Zambian rich and powerful to the alternatives I see elsewhere, such as "presidential palaces" and "vacation homes" whose costs must be wholly absorbed by taxpayers. To me this is the best argument for supporting the development of luxury tourist infrastructure, as the President has called for, but it must pay for itself.

    Zambia is possessed of resources which are desired by foreign and domestic elites alike, some of which are finite like land or emeralds, some of which are abundantly renewable if properly managed like clean water and service industry jobs, some of which are depleted or dilapidated and require resuscitation like rural roads and animal habitats, and some of which have yet to be accessed or discovered. I hesitate to surrender the finite resources, even to domestic elites, I do not particularly want to see giant estates or private emerald fortunes, nor should luxury resorts be permitted to restrict access to otherwise publicly accessible natural treasures. That does not mean however that small enclaves of unrestrained elite service can't serve the multiple purposes of funding development of basic infrastructure like roads, steady employment at reasonable wages in service and maintenance, and diluting the costs of elite lifestyles on the public purse.

    This would be analogous to the strategy employed by Belize in competing for tourist business in the Caribbean. Their existing infrastructure is tiny compared to that of neighbors like Mexico and Jamaica, they cannot build "mega-resorts" without first building the transport, energy and communications infrastructure needed to bring mass numbers of tourists to fill them. What they have are mostly untarred roads and a network of airstrips capable of handling small planes only outside the capital. So they don't strive for the attention of the bulk of middle class vacationers, instead concentrating on a mixture of high end luxury accommodation and low-infrastructure ecotourism. This mixture can be self-reinforcing, as when, following devastating hurricanes, ecotourists were drawn to observe the plight of endangered leopard and howler monkey habitats, financing their restoration to a state where elites would again be drawn to their "pristine" natural beauty. Ecotourists are also paying for the privilege of helping archaeologists to unearth the cities of the ancient Maya from beneath the jungle hills, which then are used in advertising to compete directly with Mexico for the Mayan mystique.

    Belize also plays up their cultural diversity, lack of civil strife, and late adoption followed by early rejection of slavery. They downplay the rampant cocaine cartels and the lasting colonial legacy of economic stratification along largely racial lines. Most of the high end tourists are whisked out of the capital immediately, so as not to sour their impression of tropical paradise, to relatively isolated rural locales where they get to imagine they are the only ones watching the sunset. Serving elites is labour intensive, but if compensation is performance based (e.g. a percentage of a restaurant tab for the server on top of an hourly wage), more lucrative for workers than high volume middle class tourism.

    Serving ecotourists can be embarrassing for governments, because they want to see slums and street kids and poached elephant corpses. This embarrassment is a small price to pay for the benefit to be derived from the fact that they don't just wish to observe such things, they can be enlisted to help directly. An excellent example of this is the Irish actor, Adam McGuigan, whose travels in Zambia provided the catalyst for the foundation of Barefeet Theatre, which is offering a voice to the world for Zambia's street kids.
    There are video clips available via Youtube. Encouraging ecotourists to engage the problems they see directly can lead to very positive world impressions of Zambian people and their government, in addition to improved outcomes for marginalized populations.

    Providing incentives for investment in the tourist industry is a likely prerequisite to obtaining these benefits, but caution should be employed to prevent lasting damage from the unbridled pursuit of profit or luxury. As the people of the Creek Tribe of North America say, "Only after the last tree has been cut down; only after the last river has been poisoned; only after the last fish has been caught; only then will you find that money cannot be eaten".

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  3. Yakima, I agree with your last comment about tourism entirely. I hope Minister Mugala can read it. I think the best way government can benefit from Diaporans is to tap into their brains. What you you have outlined here is for example a sound 'Tourism Policy'.

    Defining a plan is probably the biggest weakness Zambia has. Spreading the word or marketing, needs a definition of what is to be marketed. Thus, Tourist Ministry needs first to define specific services they want to be sold.

    That leads to another issue - the state of infrastructure. What is the quantity and quality of infrastructure? Hotels, Shalets, roads, bridges, game reserves, etc, etc. Often, these are dilapidated. Also as you point out, what is the target group Zambia aims for? In short, I agree that Zambia needs to define things/strategy properly they call on those abroad to assist. People are ready to help but products and services to be sold have to be defined. I hope this is not taken as refusal in assisting.

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  4. Yakima,

    "Craft artisans such as these pictured here, at Lusaka's Kabwata Cultural Centre on Burma Road could be shifting a lot more of this merchandise for a lot more money if someone computer savvy can get over there and help them tap into world markets through fair trade outfits such as Novica.com, no need to wait for tourists to come to your town."

    You have put me to shame! I should know as well as I started my little website www.zambianart.com where I uploaded a few of my art collection, only to abandon it after some time. I did not know about Novica.com. Basically my nephew paints them and I am sure he is one of those exhibiting at Kabwata. I will look into it. He has told me he can produce as many as 30 per month. All I needed to buy was materials for him. He is very good!

    "Providing incentives for investment in the tourist industry is a likely prerequisite to obtaining these benefits, but caution should be employed to prevent lasting damage from the unbridled pursuit of profit or luxury."

    I agree! The key I think is to have tourism that is bottom up rather top down. Which is why I find the Namibian approach refreshing -Village tourism...

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  5. Kela,

    Thank you for that ringing endorsement, sound policy is exactly what I think this blog is all about. I think you are correct about there being a general deficit in planning and coordination throughout Zambia, with resulting confusion and inefficiency. In the case of tourism, while I see that it might be inappropriate for the Ministry to single out any one operator or attraction for promotion, I wholeheartedly agree that the government can play a role in defining a strategy and then facilitating its adoption by the industry players themselves.

    Your point about the state of accommodations is well taken, as my own examination of available online information has shown that the presence of Zambian tourism is haphazard and very uncoordinated. In researching my position for the last comment, one thing that became rather clear to me was that as important a draw as game reserves can be, it is vital to avoid concentrations of humans within them by their very nature. Therefore the total number of tourists permitted to experience them must remain relatively small even as the industry develops. The ultimate goal from a business standpoint must be to maximize the profit per customer.

    The nature of poaching is a direct reflection of human poverty, and therefore the depletion of species which the game reserves depend on to draw tourists is itself dependent on successfully linking preservation of game animals to individual poverty reduction. This is what makes the work of organizations like COMACO (link in blog toolbar) so vital at this stage of the process, but a broader based commitment within a strong framework for the industry would vastly accelerate the process. Programs like It's Wild Bushcamps seek to draw what I call, "photosafari ecotourists", those who wish to spend their holiday savings on something "low impact" so won't mind primitive or dilapidated premises as long as it is "green" and/or "authentic", and in the process are likely to be convinced to make a charitable contribution or two, and buy some local carvings or textiles. This is good for everybody, don't get me wrong, I just think we can do even better by enlisting a second class of ecotourist, which I call, "hands on ecotourists".

    Hands on ecotourists are likely to want to do many of the same things as their photosafari cousins, but they are willing to stay longer and also spend time doing work on, and money to finance materials for infrastructure. For personal reasons these people have decided that they have a stake in the health of Zambia's ecology and/or social environment, they are most definitely getting something out of what they do, they just don't want money, and in fact are usually willing to pay for the opportunity to fulfill their personal mission. Why not make it easy for them? Why not make Zambia the most attractive destination for them to do so?

    A small example of market coordination: Why not encourage tourists to bring needful items which are readily available at their point of origination and woefully rare at or near their destination? We have seen how something as simple as a spare part for a treadle pump can make the difference for a family farm, recent nursing journals for rural health clinics, school supplies for struggling teachers, so if we know that these people are coming and want to help, make it simple for them to do so. Ask them when they book their arrangements if they are interested in contributing in this or that way. Inform them of exactly who they can help and how. Provide for easy passage to their destination without bureaucratic red tape or additional cost. Arrange for acceptance of the contribution by the recipient or representative in a formal, polite way, but without inconveniencing the traveler's itinerary. They will thank you for it.

    Tourism is the service industry at its most intense. I feel that service is too often maligned in post-colonial states, because I see a world of difference between working in service as part of being "classed", and doing it because people freely pay me to. While I feel for the tourist operators in places like Livingstone, where they claim to be down to 40% average occupancy in the wake of global events, I like to think that there are at least some operations which are nevertheless thriving as mine is here on the other side of the globe. Our business is middle class urban restaurant and bar service in a highly competitive market. We started reacting when the fuel prices went up, and were ready as the food prices followed suit, and already well positioned when the crisis hit the financial markets. We revised prices only after careful examination of each of hundreds of inventory items, tying price increases to changes to higher quality ingredients where possible, and staffed up to improve personalized service, extended our operating hours, added equipment to increase our range of offerings, and relied on increased volumes to cover increases in our fixed overhead. It is working brilliantly, the more so when our competitors panic, raise prices, reduce staff or hours, and cut back on their menus and the quality of their ingredients.

    I am aware that there are vast differences between my small business and the entire Zambian tourist sector, it is just an example, the details of which I am intimately familiar. My point is that I think I see opportunity to get more out of each tourist that does come to Zambia, by giving them more, which will in turn increase the number of people who want to come, which in turn enables increasing volumes or prices. For attractions like game reserves, the ideal visitors are therefore those who maximize the desire on the part of others to do as they have done. For maximizing tourist earnings per capita, this means attracting economic elites, and the best way to do that is to attract celebrities.

    I think it could be quite effective if people in Zambia were to send letters to famous persons who have shown a public interest in Africa in general in the past, asking them to consider Zambia for a holiday. There are entire tv channels devoted to nothing but following these people's movements. I am not aware of the exact figures on what the presence of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt adds to the Namibian economy while they are there, but I guarantee it is significant, especially locally. The number of hotel rooms booked by the international media alone is impressive, in spite of the fact that one reason the couple chooses to go there is that the media are kept at bay. Raising the profile of Zambian luxury accommodations in such a manner can therefore have widespread add-on effect for service industry at all levels.

    Here's an example of such a letter:

    Dear Mrs./Ms./Mr. Famous Person,

    We are honoured that you would take the time from your busy schedule to read this letter, therefore we will not mince words. We are writing to ask you to visit Zambia, nothing more. Your history of commitment to help bring about lasting positive change on the continent of Africa is impressive. You are a wo/man of obvious talent and intelligence. Where you go, others follow. What you see, you cause others to see. We ask you to see us.

    Zambia is a diverse and peaceful country, a Republic of 72 tribes speaking many different languages and founded in 1964 without bloodshed. We sit at the crossroads of 8 fellow nations in the heart of Southern Africa. We do not war amongst ourselves, nor do we invade our neighbors, but we have a proud history of anchoring the struggle against apartheid regimes in all neighboring states and hosting civilian refugees fleeing armed conflicts. Our multi-party elections are free and fair, and the results respected democratically by all parties. Zambians still struggle to fight hunger and disease on a daily basis, but we are committed to solving these problems through hard work and wise resource management. We are not asking for anything more than for you to consider what we are offering to the world market.

    It has been said that most Americans do not know that Africa is not a single country, and that therefore the problems of one state become associated with all states. This is exacerbated by the pressing need to inform the world community about the plight of civilians facing dire circumstances due to immediate proximate causes. We have no wish to detract from your commitment to humanitarian crises in any way, in fact we hope that you will view your visit to Zambia as an opportunity to recuperate for a time, in a part of Africa at peace with itself.

    Bring your loved ones to come see the splendour of our National Parks, our breathtaking waterfalls, hippo filled rivers, and proud elephant herds. Hear our talented musicians, see our traditional dancers and artists, taste the best produce of our farms transformed into world class cuisine by our chefs. We have much to offer to you, and to the whole world, not least of which is the opportunity to demonstrate that a culture of peace can indeed bring prosperity to an African nation. Thank you for your time and attention, and we look forward to seeing you in Zambia soon!

    Sincerely,
    blah blah blah

    P.S. If you would like to learn more about what Zambia can offer you, please explore these internet resources: blah blah blah


    Before anyone starts asking why I don't just send such a letter myself, the answer is simple, I am in the wrong place, the Zambian postmark is crucial if it is to have any hope of passing the screening process as unique enough to warrant personal attention even by an aide. Even better would be to write it on papyrus or elephant dung paper, make sure the envelope fairly screams Zambia! I would also include at the top of the links section something visually spectacular that is likely to capture the imagination, such as this video (recorded at Mfuwe lodge, included as an example, not a specific endorsement over other lodges). I believe that this is the sort of thing that even celebrities would consider a remarkable experience.

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  6. Interesting article, although I don't recollect Zambia being communist:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/24/AR2009012400681.html?hpid=topnews

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