By Gershom Ndhlovu
Blame it on lack of specialization by journalists or on lodge owners who do not have local television channels on their menu as a parliamentary select committee chaired by Bangweulu MP Peter Machungwa observed, but the poor promotion of tourism lies elsewhere.
The parliamentary committee should have directed the finger of blame for the poor response to the “Visit Zambia” campaign at the Zambia National Tourist Board, the Tour Association of Zambia and those who are associated with tourism business generally, including the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources.
Even if the journalists churned out brilliant news stories or features about Zambia for local papers, or lodge owners showed ZNBC TV 25 hours a day, the current approach by those charged with the task of promoting tourism would still yield just a marginal rate of tourists visiting Zambia compared to millions visiting destinations such as Kenya.
One often hears that tourism representatives have attended a tourism fair in this or that country where several people made inquiries, or that a tourist organization has entered into a deal with British Airways, or such rigmarole but whether they manage to woo significant numbers of people to visit Zambia is something else.
What Zambia lacks is a presence on the high streets of developed countries through existing travel agencies. Someone walking into offices of such travel agents as First Choice, Going Places or Thomas Cook in Britain will find literature and promotional tour packages to countries such as Kenya, Mauritius, Egypt and South Africa, but never on Zambia.
I do not believe that what we have on offer as a nation is less glamorous than those countries. We have in our country one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, the Musi-oa-Tunya, for heaven’s sake.
Someone may enter into an arrangement with British Airways, but don’t forget that this airline goes to a thousand-and-one destinations all over the world such that concentrating on marketing a destination such as Zambia is least of their worries. Equally on the minus side, is that British Airways has no high street presence per se. Most ordinary British people who go for holidays seek bargains on the high street through travel agents like First Choice, Going Places or, indeed, Thomas Cook and many others.
Placing a few old magazines on Zambia in Zambian embassies and high commissions is equally meaningless because the people who have business with them have probably already made up their minds about going to Zambia anyway.
What Zambia needs is a sustained advertising campaign in collaboration with established travel agents in newspapers, on TV, the internet. The sale of booklets on Zambia in bookshops of developed countries would also help.
Attracting tourists from Britain for instance, should not be underrated because going on holiday abroad is big business there. People save for years just for them to go to a dream destination at least once in their life time.
A casual chat with a Briton on Zambia’s tourist attractions such as the Victoria Falls, the Kafue and South Luangwa national parks, etc, generates so much interest one wonders what a sustained campaign would do. I suspect that our marketers in the tourism sector have misunderstood the type of people who go for holidays. Forget about the rich, it is the ordinary people who go for holidays. It is the same people who will recommend a place to others by word of mouth.
It is to these people that our tourism marketers should target their campaigns usually at the beginning of the year, the rationale being that someone will make up their mind about where they would be going in the summer at the height of winter when it is very cold, dark and wet.
Promoting tourism should not be how big the funding for subsistence allowances or per diems is but rather on the impact that the campaigns are and they need to be directed at the right audience.