Press Release by Africa @ Work :
Storm brews over Protea Hotel development on the Zambezi River (24 March 2010) :
The proposal by the franchise owner of the Protea Hotel brand in Zambia to build a 144-room hotel and conference centre in a wilderness area on the banks of the Zambezi River has raised a storm of protest from both operators in the area and the general public alike.
The double-storey hotel, if built on the site currently proposed, would compromise the unspoiled wilderness appeal of the Chiawa Game Management Area (GMA) and the adjoining Lower Zambezi National Park and Mana Pools National Park.
The hotel site is 500m across the Zambezi river from the Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, a World Heritage Site. Zimbabwean wildlife and conservation groups say they have not been consulted about the project and believe the double-storey hotel would affect the wilderness values on that side of the river as well.
The eastern GMA is also the proposed site for Zambia’s first Partnership Park, a public-private partnership for the protection of game areas and upliftment of communities adjacent to this area.
Currently there are 136 commercial beds available in the GMA area provided by 12 camps and small lodges along the river bank. The biggest lodge in the area has 28 beds, the maximum allowed by the management plan for the area. The new hotel will double this capacity overnight, changing the high-value, low-impact tourism the Lower Zambezi area is known for.
Lodge operators believe that although a large hotel would certainly provide community upliftment, building it in the middle of a wilderness area would be “killing the goose that lays the golden egg”. “It will diminish the value of the experience, which is exactly what people are coming here for,” said one.
Protea Hotels Zambia is 97.5% owned by Union Gold, a local company that also owns the Spar supermarket brand in Zambia, among other business interests. The remaining 2.5% owned by Mauro Guardigli, an Italian living in Zambia. The group owns the franchise for South Africa’s Protea Inns and Hotels (Pty) Ltd.
Mark O’Donnell, the major shareholder in Union Gold Zambia Ltd, the holding company of Protea Hotels Zambia Ltd, is a board member of the Zambia Wildlife Authority, a government body controlling management plans for all wildlife areas.
Operators object to the proposed siting of the hotel, 52kms from the ferry that takes vehicles across the Kafue river and onto the road to the GMA. The site is set in pristine riverine forest near the Lower Zambezi National Park in the heart of the low-impact, relatively undeveloped part of the GMA, where stakeholders are trying to preserve the unspoiled environment.
Two alternative sites have been proposed to Protea. One is Gwabi, a site for sale on the Kafue River near the confluence of the Zambezi. It is a short drive from Chirundu, the border town between Zimbabwe and Zambia, and just two hours’ drive from Lusaka, on a tar road and is already linked to the main power grid.
The second property offered by a leaseholder in the GMA is river frontage to the west of Zambezia Farm, the boundary between local community land, which can provide Protea’s labour, and the GMA. This location would mean a far lower impact on the wilderness environment and easier logistics for construction and guest transport.
But Protea has, to date, refused to consider these options.
Operators in the GMA say Protea’s Environmental Impact Study hardly addresses the impact an extra 30,000 visitors a year will have on the environment.
The EIS is also vague about the transportation of guests to the new complex but consultants maintain an all-weather road would be necessary to support an operation of this size, replacing the current sand road requiring four-wheel drive vehicles. An all-weather road will clearly mean an increase in traffic and the likelihood of other development.
The hotel will also greatly increase the motorised river transport and number of aircraft in the area, and there are further concerns about increased litter and solid waste disposal. Power lines from the national grid to the hotel will have to be installed in the game area.
The EIS appears to ignore management plans drawn up for both the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia and the Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, both of which reinforce the concept of low impact tourism on the sensitive valley floor. Further, this development will likely impact on current studies on a transfrontier park.
Several years ago, the Zambian government was forced to back down on its decision to award 220 hectares of land in the Mosi-O-Tunya National Park at the Victoria Falls, Zambia’s only World Heritage site, to South African hotel group Legacy for a complex comprising two luxury hotels, 500 chalets and a golf course. This followed public outrage about the impact it would have on the area.
The Protea development also has a potential cross-border impact and the operators and conservationists in Lower Zambezi hope public opinion will force this development to be reconsidered or located on a more appropriate site.
The final date for objections to the Environmental Council of Zambia is 14 April 2010. Comments can be addressed to J Sakala on firstname.lastname@example.org or C Simwanza on email@example.com
For more information, please contact Dianna Games, Africa @ Work, on +27 (0)82 331 4225 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org