An interesting article on the tourism sector, which unfortunately ends with the usual government spin "we have done enough, its up to you Zambians to make it work...etc "
Credit crunch hits hard tourism sector, Charity Moonga, Times of Zambia, Commentary :
The global economic crunch seems to have become the most popular phrase in the day-to-day lives of people in the world today. Hardly any serious meeting takes place without any mention of the current global financial crisis, which has hit many countries. Many people are gathering in diverse areas of the world to find solutions that will cushion the impact of the financial crisis on their economies.
Zambia, as a developing country, has not been spared this global economic meltdown. The country has of late experienced negative economic indicators as a result of the global financial crisis. One area of development that Zambia has seen hardly hit is the tourism sector.
The Zambian Government has in the past identified the tourism sector as a priority area in the development of the country and, in this vein, the Government introduced the national tourism policy. The Government has stated that it is aware of the role the tourism sector can play in the development of the country, especially in the generation of foreign exchange, employment and income and other Government revenues. It has since accorded the tourism sector the second priority rating after agriculture because of its importance to the economic development of the country.
The Zambian Government’s policy, which promoted a private sector-driven tourism has in the past seen an increase in tourist arrivals into the country. Under the tourism policy, incentives have been put in place to ensure that tourism flourishes in the country because the industry is a generator of foreign exchange, of which many of the world’s least developed countries, among them Zambia, are in need. Because of the good incentives, investors have been attracted to the tourism sector, and the industry has acted as a source of income, creating jobs and acting so as to evenly distribute economic benefits generated by foreign and domestic visitor spending in the country.
The industry has been doing very well in the past few years but with the coming in of the global credit crunch, it has greatly been affected.
Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources Minister, Catherine Namugala has conceded that the Government is worried about the effects of the global economic crunch on the tourism sector in the country.
Ms Namugala says that Government is worried that the global economic slow down will impact negatively on the tourism sector. “There is need for the sector to adjust and adapt in order to stay afloat. Now is the time to survive. We must not look for extraordinary profits but we must do our best to ensure that we avoid job losses in the sector,” Ms Namugala says.
She says the Government is encouraging the growth of the tourism sector to assist cushion the impact of the global economic slowdown on the economy considering that the mining sector, which has been the main stay of the economy, has suffered low copper prices. “Tourism has been growing steadily, helping to reduce poverty levels. I have no doubt that the sector will survive the difficult financial crisis and meet the projected contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of eight per cent by 2010. It will not be easy,” Ms Namugala says.
According to the Livingstone Tourism Association, the tourism sector in Livingstone has already suffered the negative effects of the global economic recession. The tourist capital has so far recorded a 50 per cent decline in business as a result of a reduction in the number of tourist arrivals due to the global credit crunch. Most tourists who had pre-booked had cancelled their bookings citing the financial crisis. “The number of visitors coming to Livingstone has drastically reduced, hence affecting the tourism sector in the tourist capital,” Livingstone Tourism Association vice-chairman, Graham Nel says.
Mr Nel says most tourists from the United Kingdom (UK) have cancelled their bookings as a result of the global economic recession. “The decline in business in the tourism sector in Livingstone is so big and is likely to affect all other businesses in the tourist capital,” Mr Nel says. He says most tour operators have already started downsising and realigning jobs due to loss of business in the industry. Boat cruises in the tourist capital have also reduced by about 30 per cent with the number of visitors that have reduced.
Since the number of international tourists has drastically reduced, the tour operators in Livingstone are now calling for the promotion of local tourism as a way of promoting of the tourist capital as a tourist destination and beating the credit crunch. It is very true to say that some Zambians, and even those that were born and brought up in Livingstone, have never seen the falls. They admit that they have heard that there is a water falls in Livingstone but they have never been there due to various reasons, including lack of interest and little knowledge of the site.
But Mr Nel says his organisation would do everything possible in conjunction with the Government to promote tourism in Livingstone. Mr Nel says his organisation is also working on republishing the historical record of Livingstone and increasing its membership. “We are also running a website which will be operational in April and will promote all organisations in Livingstone,” Mr Nel says.
Mr Nel urges the Government to reduce transport and fuel prices as well as include Livingstone in the economic zone to boost the sector. He said the proposed increase in Zesco tariffs and anti-dollarisation would have a negative impact on the tourism sector along with load-shedding. “As a tourism sector in Livingstone, we deal with the international market and people would rather be quoted in the currency which they understand,” Mr Nel says. He also states that the continued rise in the water levels in the Zambezi river will also have an impact on the tourism sector in Zambia.
Other tour operators in Livingstone have also called for the promotion of domestic tourism as a way of boosting tourism in the tourist capital. The tour operators said this at a recent tourism forum held in Livingstone.
Visit Livingstone Zambia Limited representative, Humphrey Mhango says it is sad that domestic tourism in Livingstone has been neglected. “We need to re-look at domestic tourism to boost the industry in Livingstone. So far, there is no leadership when it comes to domestic tourism,” Mr Mhango says. Another tour operator, Constance Lewanika says there is need for Zambia to take advantage of the presence of the Victoria Falls to woo more tourists to Livingstone.
The tour operators further call on the Government to deal with bus fares as a way of wooing more local tourists to Livingstone and other tourism facilities in the country. They say that at the moment, bus fares are just too high while the roads leading to tourism destinations are in very poor condition, hence discouraging local tourists. “Currently, the occupancy levels in our hotels, lodges and guest houses have gone down and that is why we need to focus on promoting domestic tourists,” the operators say.
Zambia Tourist Board chairman, Errol Hickey, however, assures that his organisation is doing everything possible to market Zambia as a tourist destination with the available funds. “We have applied for a supplementary budget of K2 billion and we are hoping that once released, the money will greatly assist us market Zambia,” Mr Hickey says. He says his organisation is also working with the SEED programme to promote domestic tourism packages.
Economics Association of Zambia president, Mwilola Imakando calls for diversification if Zambia is to develop. “We need to diversify from mining to agriculture and tourism,” Dr Imakando says. Tourism Council of Zambia (TCZ) president, Mark O’donnell says Zambia is likely to record a decline in the country’s export earnings from the projected US$4.8 billion to $3.3 billion as a result of the global economic crisis. He says the country’s export earnings will this year reduce because of the global economic crunch.
Mr O’donnell said this during the Economics Association of Zambia (EAZ) discussion forum on the impact of the global economic recession on the tourism sector in Zambia at Livingstone’s Protea Hotel recently.
Stakeholders at the forum called on the Government to work with its citizens to ensure that Zambia was reduced from an expensive tourist destination to a cheaper one. “Visitors say that Zambia is an expensive destination and as a country, we need to respond to that by increasing the number of airlines coming here and reducing the fuel prices. Once our costs are down, we will receive more visitors,” Mr O’donnell says.
There is also need for Zambia to avoid harassing and arresting innocent tourists over trivial issues, and the number of unnecessary roadblocks should be reduced as they do not give a good impression of the country.
Mr O’donnell also condemns the over 12 licences in the tourism sector in Zambia. “The tourism sector in Zambia is also over-licensed. There are 12 licences that are required if you want to set up a tourism business in Zambia and these should be cut down to reduce on obstacles in the industry,” Mr O’donnell says. Mr O’donnell also bemoans the enactment of the Tourism Act, accusing it of not being responsive to the needs of the tourism industry, hence the need to review it. He says some of the rates charged in the country must also be reviewed as they are discouraging investors in the sector. “Some of the rates being charged in the country are too high. An example is of the property that we own in Chibombo where the rates were increased by the council there from K15 million per year to K350 million. ‘‘We contested the matter and filed an injunction against that council and the case is now in court,” Mr O’donnell says.
ZTB has called on the Government to scrap visa fees as a way of attracting more tourists to the country. Mr Hickey says the $50 tourist visa fee being charged is too much for the tourists, hence the need to suspend it for a year. “Let the tourists come in for free and see what we have. Let us do more to get the maximum benefit from the Victoria Falls,” Mr Hickey says. It is also important to ensure that borders do not discourage visitors by harassing them unnecessarily.
Mr Hickey, however, urges tourism operators in the country to ensure that they retain their employees despite the ongoing global financial crunch. He says the economic crunch has affected most sectors of the economy and it is important for tour operators not to re-deploy their employees. “The economic crunch will hit all of us, so let us try not to re-deploy our people. Try to keep the people that have worked with you for a long time. You have trained them and you understand each other better,” Mr Hickey says.
He bemoaned the budget of $600,000 that has been allocated to the ZTB, saying it is too small to adequately market Zambia’s tourism. “We have a mandate to market but it is difficult because our budget this year is a disaster. We are inviting the private sector to work with us. ‘‘We have come up with a strategy to work with partners who will help us adequately market Zambia’s tourism,” Mr Hickey says. He, however, calls on local tour operators to come up with local tourism packages that will be affordable to the local visitors.
Mr Hickey also bemoans the state of the Livingstone-Zimba road, saying it is discouraging would-be tourists and investors. He, however, commends the Government for coming up with a one-stop shop, saying it will go a long way in boosting the tourism industry. Mr Hickey says last year, the tourism industry registered 750,000 visitors and was targeting one million visitors by 2010.
Mr Hickey urges all tour operators to raise the standards of their services to woo more tourists. Zambia has some of the richest tourism resources and has the capacity to increase tourist arrivals and earnings, and the challenge now is for Zambians to ensure that they maintain this strong growth and improve on it. One other way of improving tourism in Zambia is for the country to work hard in making its tourist destinations competitive.
“As for Zambia, there is need for Zambians to work together and support and encourage quality visitor experiences by ensuring that marketing promises are delivered and that the tourism destinations remain competitive,” the stakeholders in the tourism sector state. Zambians must also understand the different visitors’ needs because these people spend huge sums of money and time to travel to the country. “We need to enrich the tourist experience by providing quality assurance and improve accessibility to quality information,” the stakeholders add.
Visitors that come to Zambia must also be assured of safety and security of their persons and properties. The country should also have control of threatening behaviour and there must be a policy of evacuation procedures for the tourists.
On issues of health, it is important for Zambia to ensure that the health and hygiene standards in the country are upheld. “We need good health facilities and a policy and implementation programme on hygiene in the country,” the tourism stakeholders say. There should also be visitor-friendly immigration procedures and defined complaint handling procedures.
The stakeholders further feel that the high quality experience needed by the industry to compete domestically and internationally will only result in having a majority of quality tourist operators.
In her paper presented to a recent seminar in Livingstone dubbed ‘Keys for successful management and destination competitiveness’, United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) coordinator for destination management, Esencan Terzibasoglu said tour operators needed to work together for sustainable tourism.
She said, tourism, being an extremely competitive industry, required a coordinated management approach based on a collective vision and strong partnership. “If you are pursuing the same strategy with the same structure you had five years ago, it is likely that, at best, you will be missing opportunities and at worst, you will be undermining the future of your toutrism industry,” Ms Terbasoglu says. She says the Governments has a role to play in the development of the tourism sector in the country. The Government needs to establish a safe and stable environment for tourism to flourish as well as facilitate and provide appropriate incentives for private sector investment in tourism.
Ms Terbasoglu says the Government should also make good tourism policies and ensure the safety and security of residents and visitors. Promotion and marketing are also two important factors in ensuring the success of tourist destinations in the country. Tour operators must have a knowledge and understanding of the needs of the country’s target markets and the “new tourists”. They should also capitalise on the opportunities brought about by new technologies.
Ms Terbasoglu also calls for the improvement of the visitor experience and be innovative in the management of the tourist product. “There should be public-private sector partnership in the key areas of management and marketing. Tour operators must continuously adapt to the dynamically changing macro, competitive and market environments,” Ms Terbasoglu says.
There is also need for countries like Zambia to have critical knowledge and information of competing markets and an evaluation of a destination’s tourism potential.
Countries should also realise that travellers now are very particular about going to destinations where authorities have put in place environmental protection, measures and regulations. Tour operators should also realise that quality is perceived as a potential factor to raise income, but that it does not mean luxury. The common quality challenges of tour operators that have come up in several tourism stakeholders’ meetings are that tour operators are avoiding environmental damage and prevention of infrastructural collapse. Tour operators also say they have problems of preventing insecurity at all levels and to fight the weak hygiene or health and sort out the problem of poor public transportation.
The tour operators are further facing the challenges of a lack of effective information that would affect the comfort and confidence of tourists. There is need for continuous improvement of tourist destinations to woo more tourists.
In Zambia, stakeholders in the tourism sector urge the Government to identify a carrier that will identify the country with to assist the tourism sector. LTA, for example, bemoans the inadequate tourist attraction currently available in the tourist capital. The association states that the tourist product in Livingstone has remained undiversified, hence the need for expansion.
Association member, Munukayumbwa Munyima says the tourist product in Livingstone remains the Victoria Falls, together with the Zambezi river and the gorges, Mosi-oa-Tunya national park and the Mukuni village. He calls for the establishment of more tourist attractions to complement the existing ones. Mr Munyima cites Kazungula district as one area, which can be promoted as a tourism destination. “The more tourist attractions we offer, the longer our tourists will be compelled to stay with us, and the more business opportunities the private enterprises will have,” Mr Munyima says.
The LTA has from time to time bemoaned the dry waterfalls during the dry season and has called on the Government to discuss with Zesco the possibilities of the institution closing the power station or operating only at night during this period. Mr Katanekwa says the dry waterfalls is of great concern to the industry as the visitor numbers from August to November are just too small, hence the need for the Government to find ways of equally dividing the waterfalls’ rights between Zesco and the tourism sector.
Southern Province Permanent Secretary, Darius Hakayobe reiterates Government’s commitment to promoting the tourism sector. “Government has already put a tourism policy in place and we are currently working on our infrastructure,” Mr Hakayobe says. He says the Government is working on the Kazungula bridge and the Livingstone-Zimba road works will be completed this year. Mr Hakayobe, however, calls for a public-private partnership in marketing Zambia’s tourism and ensure economic development.
The patents and companies registration office has also opened an office in Livingstone in a bid to attract more tourism investment. Patents and companies registrar, Anessie Banda Bobo says Livingstone is well-positioned in terms of tourism, hence the move to open a companies registration office there.
“Livingstone has got the capacity to greatly contribute to foreign direct investment, so that is why we have decided to bring our office here so that we make it easy for investors to do their business,” Mrs Bobo says.
The patents and companies office is currently working with the Zambia Development Agency and the Citizens Economic Empowerment Commission to ensure that business takes place under a one-stop shop.
“We are hopeful that by opening an office here in Livingstone, we have done our part in easing the process of doing business in the province. Our process has become very easy and people of Southern Province will no longer have to come to Lusaka for their business,” Mrs Bobo said.
The National Airports Corporation (NACL) has also come up with a system to curb delays in clearing passengers at the Livingstone International Airport in a bid to promote tourism in Livingstone.
As stated above, the Government and other institutions as well as tourism stakeholders and operators have stated their position on the improvement of the tourism sector as it strives to succeed in the midst of the global economic crisis. The call is now coming to Zambians to take care of the country’s tourists. There is a purpose why some tourists elect to travel to Zambia, hence the need for the community to appreciate them.
Dealing with tourists may not be very easy and it is important for the local Zambians to find out what exactly individual tourists wanted to come to Zambia and provide them with the comfort. “It is important to bear in mind that tourists may be wealthy because they work very hard and when they decide to take rime off from their busy schedule to visit Zambia, they are in need of comfort. Not for them to be made to stand in long queues for hours,” one tourist once said.
The Government has put in place the much-needed infrastructure, legislation, regulation, support and information to assist improve the tourism sector and it is now up to Zambians to play a role in achieving economic development in the tourism sector. It is now the duty of Zambians to work together and assist improve the country’s tourism sector and boost the economy amid the global credit crunch.