In contrast to the gloom enveloping political landscape where there’s a state of emergency orders in place and the slowing growth in commodities, tourism is expected to be a bright spot for Zambia going forward.While tourism looks bright, the rapid growth has revealed underlying problems. There is a significant shortage of trained and qualified people to service the growing number of tourists, and infrastructure in parts of the industry has failed to keep up with tourism demand.If Zambia wants to continue enjoying the benefits of its tourism boom, it needs to address these issues. The country’s tourism agency has positioned Zambia as one of the South African countries leading aspirational destinations. Surveys conducted by leading travel magazine, have consistently ranked Zambia as one of the top three most desirable destinations in Southern Africa region together with South Africa and Botswana. This year, the conditions now exist to convert aspirations into reservations. The country has experienced steady but modest growth of international tourism arrivals. Tourism agency official hopes to significantly bolster this with a marketing campaign designed to counter the widespread perception of Zambia as an expensive destination by focusing on the desirability. Research show that after safety and value for money, good wildlife and hospitality of locals was a strong motivating factor for tourists to visit Zambia.Tourism is a balancing act between creating demand and ensuring the supply of both human resources and infrastructure. Clearly, there is still much to achieve to strike the balance in Zambia. The private sector is chipping away at the shortage of upmarket accommodation in Zambia’s major towns, with new hotel rooms due to come online over the next few years.
However, unlike many of Zambia’s neighbors, such as Malawi and Mozambique, Zambia offers little development and investment incentives to develop accommodation.Both local and national governments need to invest more resources in promoting tourism careers, tourism education and training at both the vocational and higher education levels. This includes means-based assistance for young Zambians to undertake training and education at accredited training and educational institutions.Tourism has been treated by Zambian governments as a cash cow for many years, with little investment. The fragmented nature of the industry has meant it has lacked the political clout of industries such as copper mining or agriculture.Tourism has been elevated by government as a key source of future economic growth, with credible reports already stating that tourism has been unaffected despite the political instability affecting the country. The question in your blogger’s mind is whether it will really be that easy to shift back from a resource-dependent to a tourism-led economy. Tourism and the resources sector like copper have cyclically been key exports and drivers of economic growth in Zambia. However, the last decade’s copper boom has negatively impacted on the sector by increasing competition for labour. During this boom, Zambia’s resources sector has encroached on protected areas with iconic tourism attractions and protected areas increasing the risk of the country losing key assets that attract visitation. Importantly, the copper mining boom has heralded significant structural change in Zambia’s economy, with little to no long-term planning for growth once it comes to an end.As one of Zambia’s fastest growing sectors, tourism is long overdue for a level of government investment which matches its contribution to economic growth and employment.