UNWTO raises Zambia’s profile but…

President Michael Sata with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe during the official opening of the 20th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly at Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe on August 25,2013 -Picture by THOMAS NSAMA

ZAMBIA’S tourism sector is currently one of the country’s growth potential areas which has been given a non-traditional export status and is receiving a lot of support from Government.
This is evidenced by infrastructure development, promotion of increased private sector participation and attractive tax incentives for all investments in the sector.
The effort made by the government to co-host the general assembly, raised the country’s profile on the world map since it has been documented, televised and broadcast across the world.
During the high level meeting, delegates from the 120 UNWTO members states that convened in Livingstone and Victoria Falls Town mainly discussed air transport policies in their respective countries and called for measures and initiatives to increase connectivity.
The countries also called for closer collaboration between tourism and air transport policies.
Issues such as visa facilitation, the need to make airports more visitor-friendly, taxation, open skies and the impact of low cost airlines were among the issues in debate.
Speaking at the general assembly, UNWTO General Secretary Taleb Rifai said the organisation will focus on addressing such challenges faced by countries in the next two years.
Dr Rifai said the general assembly highlighted two key areas where the organisation will concentrate on, citing visa facilitation and air connectivity with regard to airlines and destinations that should  be pursued.
“We had our first ministerial round table on the issuance of visas on Monday in Zimbabwe and air connectivity, all the issues and recommendation that came out will be compiled in reports and we will pursue them with action,” Dr Rifai said.
He said other important decisions that were made were the approval of the budget for the next two years.
UNWTO defined connectivity as one of its policy priorities alongside visa facilitation and fair taxation and is working with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on advancing the issues as well as those related to addressing climate change, the modernisation of aviation regulations and the development of convergent rules for travellers and enterprise protection.
More than one billion tourists crossed international borders during 2012, over half of them traveled by air to their destinations.
Dr Rifai said 300,000 travelers are classified as youth travelers who are gaining more importance in the tourism industry.
On the other hand, local delegates including, Private Sector Development Association (PSDA) chairperson Yusuf Dodia said the co-hosting of the 20th session of the UNWTO general assembly was an opportunity for the country to show-case its tourism potential.
Mr Dodia said the meeting was key as it put the country on the world map in a ‘big way’ since it is a global event.
‘‘This event has opened doors for the country to various investment opportunities thus making the world focus on Zambia. So even after the general assembly Zambia will be spoken of in all tourism circles across the world,” he said.
Mr Dodia further said the event was interesting and a boost to national economic growth, adding that even after the event, many people will want to visit the country.
“After the conference Zambia will be recorded in many of the documentaries, satellite broadcast, radio and online publication etc… and this is a plus for the country,” he said.
While the event is a forum for international sovereign countries to discuss tourism across the planet, most of the participants were representatives of government and statutory bodies of tourism across the world.
At the event, advocacy was defined in detail as it is a very much a planning mechanism for tourism across the world.
Other international delegates who included retired and former Iranian director general of tourism Mahmoud Emami was impressed with the beauty of the two countries and the organisation of the conference, saying it yielded more positive results.
“I have been to China, east, west and north, and for the more than 50 years [that] I have been in existence on earth, I have travelled extensively all over the world. I have never seen a hotel like this, (Royal Livingstone and Zambezi Sun hotels), this is fabulous, I must appreciate and thank Government for the facilitation of the conference including service, the food, and everything was better than everywhere…
Apart from the hotels, the conference was well organised, I have travelled worldwide but this was the best; food was nice the service perfect and people were friendly,”
Zambia’s tourism potential draws from its natural environment, from which abound a variety of tourism attractions. The main tourism attractions in the country include; the Victoria Falls (which is one of the most renowned beautiful transcendental Seven Natural Wonders of the World), and the wealth of wildlife spread out in the country’s 19 national parks and 34 game management areas with a total area of 65,000 square kilometers.
Furthermore, the country boasts of vast water falls, lakes and rivers, one of the largest concentrations of bird species in the world, a rich cultural heritage and several monuments spread across the country.
With the successful hosting of the UNWTO general assembly many delegates described the event as great in the sense that it left an impact on the community and delegates.
The general assembly was attended in a very impressive way registering 147 countries, 49 full ministers and over 700 delegates excluding the private sector and the media.
The UNWTO which is the United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism promotes tourism as a driver of economic growth, inclusive development and environmental sustainability.
It also offers leadership and support to the sector in advancing knowledge and tourism policies worldwide.
Its membership includes 155 countries, 7 territories and over 400 affiliate members representing the private sector, educational institutions, tourism associations and local tourism authorities.
Zambia as a tourist destination, should price tourism packages at affordable costs if tourism is to blossom to greater heights because most delegates viewed it as expensive.