Hi, my name is Lynne and this is my first blog for TFIZ. Most of the time I look a lot scruffier than in the picture as I run my own small hotel. As anyone with their own small business knows, this means that I can go from excel spreadsheets to cleaning toilets in the blink of an eye, so I have to be prepared.
I live in Livingstone, the tourism capital of Zambia, and I’m going to write mostly about tourism and running my lodge but there are lots of issues that I come across that get me fired up, so I might stray a bit.
Tourism in Zambia accounts for around 7% of GDP, down from 10% in 2005 but a slight increase in recent years, and 29,400 formal jobs in the private sector in 2014, but that has almost certainly risen by now. There are dozens of colleges and courses of varying degrees of effectiveness and a general assumption that tourism in Zambia can and should grow economically and geographically. Tourism creates revenue that multiplies as it passes through the economy, it creates jobs which lead to economic stability and social development, and if done correctly (a BIG if here) it can be the key element in preserving the flora and fauna of its location. We are blessed to have here in Zambia amazing natural resources. Tourism has a lot to offer Zambia and Zambia has a lot to offer in return, so as individual businesses, an industry and at government level the challenge is how to maximise this potential.
At my little hotel in Livingstone I see our challenges every day. A common dialogue with future clients goes like this:
Client: “I’ve booked a room with you next week. Can you pick me up at the airport next Thursday at 12.30 please?”
Me: “Yes of course. Can you please confirm your flight number.”
Client: “Oh, its BA 6285 arriving 12.30.”
Me: “Did you know that this flight lands in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and we are in Zambia?”
Client: “No I didn’t! That’s annoying. On the (insert name of online booking agent) website it wasn’t clear.”
…. And so it goes on. I have had this conversation countless times,and it is true that when you look at the global online travel booking sites,they often fail to differentiate between Zambian and Zimbabwean options. We also see clients on package tours to South Africa who don’t realise our Mosi oa Tunya (OUR Mosi oa Tunya) Falls is NOT in South Africa. They are shocked when they need their passports at the end of the flight. Some tourism marketing is fuzzy at best, downright deceptive at worst. But does this matter if visitors are still coming to the Falls? Yes it does – it damages our brand identity and hampers our efforts to market the rest of the country. Most visitors come for 2 – 3 days as an add-on to a Namibia/Botswana/South Africa trip. How can we market more of Zambia if people don’t even know they are visiting here?
To be realistic, we are not just competing with South Africa, Zimbabwe and our other neighbors when visitors are planning their trips to Africa. We are competing with other long haul destinations for our main target markets. Imagine our potential future visitor at home in front of their laptop researching Africa, Asia, South America, Europe or America and comparing flight prices, hotel prices and possible experiences. This is where our biggest battle has to be fought.
In my opinion this has to be a starting point for future marketing of our tourism industry. I promote my little hotel, but we are tiny. This is a big and important job. It is going to take a concerted effort at government level in conjunction with a pro-active private sector to assert our identity and market ourselves as a unique, distinct and valued product. The funds raised by the new Tourism Levy must be channeled into SMART objectives with transparent accountability if we are to come even close to the stated goal of being in the top 5 of sub-Saharan African destinations (currently 16th).
We have an amazing, spectacular, “breath takingly” beautiful waterfall that you must see, set in a country with wildlife and natural beauty in abundance, and a culture we love to share. Some of our visitors have saved for years to be able to afford their trip, having dreamed of seeing the wildlife and visiting one of the seven natural wonders of the world. They come looking for the experience of a lifetime. We need to rise up to meet their expectations and our own.