Lessons from 2013 UNWTO meet

Lovemore Moyo member of the Horn of Africa group perform during a street carnival in Victoria Falls

THE 2013 United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly came to an end on Thursday after six days of hectic and frantic deliberations as member states seek ways of using tourism for economic growth.
The general assembly co-hosted by Zambia and Zimbabwe was the first to be held in southern Africa and only the second in Africa, and recorded a record high number of delegates from different parts of the world.
The co-hosts were taking over from the Republic of Korea which held the event in 2011 while Colombia has won the right to host the next event in 2015 after defeating Cambodia which had also lodged its bid.
The 20th General Assembly has been described as the best-ever attended in the history of the global organisation with a total of 121 full members from different countries in the world.
Zambia’s tourist capital, Livingstone, was on the spotlight together with its southern neighbour Victoria Falls Town in Zimbabwe showcasing their renowned status as hosts of the mighty Victoria Falls, a world heritage site.
But as the dust settles, questions are being raised as to what would be the legacy of the UNWTO General Assembly on Zambia and its people and the benefits accrued from the assembly.
It must be stated from the outset that the immediate benefit accrued from hosting the UNWTO General Assembly is Zambia’s exposure to the international community which had little or limited knowledge about the country, its culture and the tourism potential.
Lola Huete, a journalist from Spain said in many cases many Europeans had been referring to Africa as a single country but the General Assembly would now set the record straight.
“Zambia has been exposed to the world as a country because some people in Europe think that Africa is one large country,” said Ms Huete, who covered the assembly in Zambia and Zimbabwe for Elpais, a Spanish weekly magazine.
“From what I have seen, I am impressed and I think many people around the world will have a better understanding of this beautiful country.”
With about 2,000 people attending the conference, Zambia has inevitably appointed ambassadors across the globe who will speak about the country.
Admittedly, Zambia’s cultural diversity and real identity and natural resources have obviously been marketed to the outside world.
Through exposure to the larger part of the world, there is little doubt that the 2013 UNWTO General Assembly has brought attention to Zambia and Zimbabwe as far as global tourism is concerned.
The experience could, therefore, lead to increased international tourism visitations to Zambia and ultimately improve the earnings for the country from the sector.
Africa targets to reach 130 million international tourists by 2030 and the exposure of Zambia and Zimbabwe to the international community could be a stepping stone towards that feat.
The 2010 World Bank Report indicated that annual tourist arrivals in Zambia were only 815,000 despite efforts that had been put in place in recent years to hit one million mark.
Tourism earnings for Zambia have also not seen a significant increase with figures indicating that the country received US$148 million in 2010 from $138 million in 2007.
However, some delegates said in an interview with the Sunday Times that the Assembly was an opportunity for Zambia to increase the earnings in the tourism industry.
“It is a beautiful country which everyone would like to visit,” said Wykeham McNeill, minister of Tourism and Entertainment of Jamaica who was one of the delegates at the Assembly.
“I have talked this with your Vice-President, that look you have a very beautiful country which can attract more tourists from all the corners of the globe after this assembly.”
Mr McNeill, who had time to view the sun set in the middle of the Zambezi River during a boat cruise, said he had become an ambassador for Zambia after witnessing the beauty of the country.
Job creation
In no uncertain terms, President Michael Sata made it clear that he would like the 2013 General Assembly to strengthen the zeal of making tourism the cornerstone for job creation and sustainable development.
With the high unemployment rate, the Government and its people would wish that long-term benefits accrued from the General Assembly would include job creation and sustainable economic development.
“The 20th Session of the UNWTO comes against the background of a global realisation that tourism is a sector of significance and importance, with great potential in contributing to job creation and sustainable development,” Mr Sata said when he opened the Assembly.
“As you meet to discuss issues that will help us make tourism a global agenda, I would like to emphasise to you that well-designed and managed tourism can make a significant contribution to sustainable development.”
President Sata said the tourism sector could contribute to diversification and transformation of national economies.
It is believed that more than 1,000 jobs were created in the preparation works for the General Assembly and many people, particularly in Livingstone, would wish for much more in order to appreciate the UNWTO.
Organisational experience
The fact that the General Assembly attracted international visitors from around the globe, it posed a challenge to the hosting countries on how to accommodate and secure the delegates.
Zambia and Zimbabwe needed relevant organisational skills to ensure that the General Assembly was not only successful but left behind an experience that could be used in future international events.
South African High Commissioner to Zambia Patrick Jacobs said in an interview that Zambia would never be the same again as far as organising international events was concerned, thanks to the UNWTO General Assembly.
“The hosting of this Assembly by Zambia and Zimbabwe is a sign that all is well for Africa,” said Mr Jacobs, whose country hosted the world’s biggest soccer tournament – the World Cup – in 2010.
“It’s an important milestone for Zambia – a sign that we have the experience to host international events. We have had a number of them in the past in Southern Africa like the World Cup in 2010 and the World Bank conference, which is a great sign.”
Mr Jacobs, however, said he had no doubt that Zambia and Zimbabwe would deliver a successful and world-class General Assembly that would leave a great legacy for the two countries.
With Zambia bidding to host the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, the UNWTO General Assembly might have just proved a point to the bigger world on how capable the country is to host such events.
Since 2011 when Zambia and Zimbabwe were awarded the right to co-host the General Assembly, efforts had been dedicated to improve the infrastructure in Livingstone.
Roads, accommodation facilities as well as street lighting have thrown Livingstone into a great outlook that put the smiles on the residents of the city.
“I wish we could have UNWTO every year so that we have good roads in the country,” said Lawrence Banda, one of the residents in reference to the new roads and street lights that had been put up ahead of the Assembly.
He said the tourist capital had seen high levels of infrastructure development from the time it was announced that the country would co-host the conference.
“I am happy that the President has assured that this development will continue because it will be unfair to stop just because the Assembly has finished,” he added.
The Assembly might be over, but the infrastructure that had come up in the run-up to the event in Livingstone such as roads is set to become one of the greatest legacies of the 2013 UNWTO General Assembly.
However, much as the UNWTO General Assembly was a success, it had provided some challenges that need to be looked at during the review of the event by all stakeholders.
For instance, the registration and accreditation of delegates, particularly the local ones, was almost turned into a mess as people spent the whole night on the queue to get accredited.
In addition, while things went on smoothly in Victoria Falls Town in Zimbabwe during the opening ceremony, it was a different story on the Zambian side during the closing ceremony where some delegates and journalists were restricted entry to the venue.
With all respect to the organisers, many would wish that the organisers would have done better knowing fully well that this was a global event which had attracted a lot of attention.
It is, therefore, hoped that such occurrences would be avoided in future events.