By JUDITH NAMUTOWE
THE Tourism sector which includes arts and culture is one of the priority growth sectors of the country’s economy. This is because the sector has potential to contribute significantly to socio-economic development of the country.
If well developed, it can also contribute to job creation especially in rural parts of the country.
The key assets of the sector include national parks and game management areas (GMAs), which are home to a great diversity of wildlife. It is encouraging to note that tourism has been singled out by Government as one of the priority areas for investment due to its numerous forward and backward linkages to other sectors of the economy.
Zambia stands out as one of the prime tourism destinations in Africa offering a wealth of natural tourism assets – waterfalls, lakes and rivers holding about 35 per cent of Southern Africa’s total natural water resource, ‘wildlife protected areas’ occupying about 10 per cent of the country’s total land area, and a tropical climate, a passport to sunshine almost throughout the year.
Zambia is home to the Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Heritage site.
In addition, Zambia is endowed with rich and diverse cultures resulting in the occurrence of more than 30 colourful traditional ceremonies annually.
Zambia and the neighbouring countries are a catchment area for local, regional and international tourism. Creating travel itineraries that extend between the neighbouring countries will give the traveller and tourists more choice and will increase tourist arrivals.
The Zambia International Travel Expo (ZITE), therefore, is the much needed catalyst for this international, regional and local tour operators are an integral factor and Zambia is well positioned to be the hub for the region.
ZITE is an annual event managed and run by Africast Exhibition Management and endorsed by the Zambia Tourism Board and the Zambia Tourism Council (TCZ).
According to information obtained on the organisation’s website, ZITE is the only tourism exhibition in Zambia that brings together a wide representation of Zambian products that showcases Zambia as a destination for tourist and business travellers.
ZITE is also a window through which international tourists can view Zambia and further promote domestic tourism.
The Travel Expo attracts exhibitors from the region with Botswana, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe being ardent supporters.
This creates more opportunities to package regional products for the source for regional and international markets.
ZITE now in its seventh year has earned its place in the local and regional tourism calendar.
It brings together a showcase of Zambian and Southern African tourism products and services for both the local and international travel trade.
Suppliers to the tourism industry can take advantage of this event to reach out to exhibitors that include accommodation providers, tour operators, game lodges, industry associations, adventure companies, safari companies, among others.
The exhibitors are drawn from the hospitality sector, hotels, safari lodges and guest houses from across Zambia.
Airlines are an integral part of the tourism supply chain and typically ZITE boasts a strong representation of Airlines in Zambia, the region as well as internationally which is an ideal opportunity to market what is available to the consumer and the trade.
There are suppliers to the tourism industry in the food and beverage segment as well as furnishings and construction elements and Africast is encouraging participation from them.
The return on investment for an exhibitor is the ability to meet contacts at their stand and this saves time and brings in new business.
Former Tourism and Arts Minister Sylvia Masebo said ZITE remains an important event on the country’s local calendar as it is a key platform for promotion of domestic tourism.
Ms Masebo said domestic tourism will be a major focus this year as Government will be launching before the end of the first quarter an aggressive campaign to enhance the awareness of tourism products and services among the locals and implore the locals to spend their holidays locally.
Zambia is endowed with diverse tourism products that most locals and residents will find appealing and fun to explore. Launching ZITE recently in Lusaka, Ms Masebo called on the private sector and other players in the Tourism industry to collaborate if the sector is to record remarkable growth.
For the tourism sector to grow there is need to have many events that can lead to sustainable development in the industry.
This year’s ZITE will attract 150 exhibitors, 70 per cent from Zambia and 30 per cent would mainly come from the region.
Other countries were the tourism industry has been a success, the main drivers was the private sector.
“We must, as the private sector work together with the Government and ensure that we come up with various products or activities that will not only bring the local people together, but also bring foreign tourists into the country. That is the only way we are going to grow the industry,” Ms Masebo said.
She said there was need to grow the creative industry as it was from such an industry that tourism can grow.
Government is in the process of launching the new tourism policy which calls for cooperation and collaboration among all stakeholders in its quest to implement meaningful and sustainable development.
Africast managing director Chimwemwe Mwale said the purpose of launching ZITE was to ensure that before the events take place, organisers would have engaged all the stakeholders to exhibit, speak and add value to Zambia’s ever growing tourism sector.
Mr Mwale said Africast wanted to ensure that by the time ZITE was held in April it will be inclusive of all stakeholders, which include the media and the private sector.
“We do not want to have an event without engaging necessary stakeholders and that is why we invited everybody to the launch so that they can take part in one way or another,” Mr Mwale said.
Mr Mwale said that Africast has always invited stakeholders to the event so that they could claim a stake in ZITE.
Mwale said the Travel Expo is this year, in its 7th consecutive year, showing both its commitment and perseverance in contributing positively to the development of tourism sector in Zambia.
Mr Mwale said the collaboration with Zambia Tourism Board (ZTB) meant that Africast had taken public private partnership (PPP) to another level, because the former can not work alone.
Infact it is every citizen’s duty and every corporate responsibility to market Zambia in all their activities and on their travels.
“So this year we are going to attract between 150 and 400 exhibitors. 70 per cent are coming from Zambia while 30 per cent are coming from the region. And I can tell you that most countries have already confirmed their participation in the Travel Expo.
“Through ZTB, we have invited over 20 tourism boards from the region. Over the three -day we are going to have the first day which is business to business and the last two-days which will be open to the general public,” Mr Mwale said.
This is the main change this year compared to the last six years Africast has been hosting the event, adding that the beginning of Zambia’s Golden Jubilee, it would be the best event to try and include Zambian people in the industry.
“I think in the past we have shown no confidence in our own domestic tourism and the gesture by organisers to ensure that the last two days include a carnival and as many Zambians as possible will ensure that all Zambians play a part in Zambian tourism,” he said.
During these three days Zambia is expecting about 10,000 visitors mainly local visitors, but of course we are going to have buyers coming from the region and Europe.
One good news this year in regard to buyers is that there is a Russian group interested in sending its group, and ZTB has invited a group of Russian buyers to come and grace the event.
It is important for tourism players and stakeholders to attend other shows within the region and internationally.
However, it is more important to build Zambia’s own event were it could invite buyers, so that they could have a free experience of the splendour of the country and the warmth of the Zambian people.