Thursday, September 27, 2007

Maximising tourism opportunities, benefits

Maximising tourism opportunities, benefits
By Editor
Thursday September 27, 2007 [04:00]

It is good that the government has over the last few years been paying attention to tourism as a sector with great potential in terms of its contribution to the growth of the national economy. Looking at the rates of international tourist arrivals, it cannot be denied that tourism, if well managed and harnessed, will in the long term have a considerable and positive effect on our economy.

For a country that has perpetually depended so much on mining as its economic mainstay, the developments in the tourism sector should offer a lot of hope that our economy can truly be diversified to capture all potential sectors.

Not necessarily to exaggerate this potential, we can state with pride that our country has assets of enormous value to the tourism industry, ranging from our culture, art, music, natural wonders as well as heritage sites, although we seem to be narrowing it mainly to the Victoria Falls and national parks.

And when we look at the tourism industry, we should not only end at focusing our attention on the foreign exchange which can be earned from international tourist arrivals, because in most cases and in the manner the industry is presently run, the benefits are not accruing as directly to the nation as we would want them to.

This therefore calls for viewing of the tourism sector as a much more diverse industry. And when we talk about tourism being a diverse industry, we are referring to its potential to support other related economic activities, especially through provision of jobs as well as through creation of a complex supply chain of goods and services, which in turn should create what can be termed a spider web economic model whereby the benefits revolve around and amongst Zambian enterpreneurs who venture into tourism-related businesses.

In our opinion, tourism can only be said to be truly beneficial to the local economy if it is able to create opportunities for our small-scale and medium-scale entrepreneurs.

To add more on the point of employment creation, our view is that since the tourism industry by its nature is labour-intensive, it should have the potential to help tackle poverty through provision of employment to local communities, especially to women and young people who still face unemployment. And this can be it to individuals with skills or those with little or no skills at all because, after all, some jobs do not necessarily require individuals' skills.

Further, we know that if infrastructure is developed in areas where it is required for tourism development, that also is beneficial to the local communities. Here, we are talking about transport and communications infrastructure, social services such as healthcare infrastructure. In our view, this is the only we can truly claim that tourism has the potential to significantly contribute to our economy, to poverty reduction.

Essentially, what this means is that we should begin to understand that tourism, like any other sector, will not grow by itself. It needs serious intervention from government in terms of appropriate fiscal and other economic policies.

For tourism to attain the levels of potential it is capable of reaching, it will require immense investment in terms of, among others, infrastructure development. For instance, if our international tourist arrivals are growing each passing year, it means that we need to start creating more bed spaces, we need better airports and we need policies that will support tourism-related industries such as the aviation sector.

These are the prerequisites which will determine real growth in the tourism sector and these are the issues we expect the government to be preoccupied with.

As we have already said, it cannot be denied that we have immense tourism potential in this country. However, the problem is that this potential has not been or is not being exploited to our benefit. What we need to remember is that potential is nothing but potential; it only becomes something of benefit if it is exploited. If the truth is to be told, we should admit that we are not fully exploiting our country's tourism potential.

Little wonder that other countries are starting to exploit our own tourism potential for themselves, because we have failed to tap that potential ourselves. We are even told of how some South African tour operators are marketing the Victoria Falls as if it were in their country.

Why? Simply because we are sleeping; we are sitting ndwiii, idling, hoping things will work out on their own for us. But life has taught us that things do not work that way. What we should realise is that the days of the biblical manna are gone and they will never come back to us.

It is not a healthy situation that today we continue to hear of grievances that much of the investment in the tourism sector is either owned by foreigners or managed by foreigners, and that the profits from tourism are freely leaking out of the country to the benefit of outsiders.

Although for those benefiting, there are clearly good reasons why this situation has prevailed, we strongly feel that there are no good reasons why it should actually be allowed to prevail indefinitely, without somebody correcting the anomaly. We have to start using the resources our country is greatly endowed with in an intelligent, efficient, effective and more beneficial manner.

Today, there are so many countries in the world, which are benefiting from tourism far more than us and yet they have far fewer resources when compared to us. This is the irony, the paradox we need to face head-on because this issue is about our economy, it is all about creating opportunities to help fight and deal with poverty.

In short, what we are saying is that as we commemorate this year's World Tourism Day, our emphasis must be on reversing the skewed distribution of benefits from tourism so that we start to maximise opportunities and benefits for the local economy, for the poor.

So, rather than hoping for manna to fall from heaven, our emphasis should be on direct participation of the local people, especially the poor, in the tourism sector through, among other things, employment and business opportunities.

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