Felix Chaila

CEO, Zambia Tourism Agency

Zambia has a growing tourism industry, spurred on by its many natural and cultural assets. These include 20 national parks, the Kuomboka ceremony of the Lozi tribe, and the legendary Victoria Falls. The country’s location and peaceful history, along with its strong history and relationship with Britain, provide an opportunity and appeal for Western tourism. And now, Zambia is capitalising on its utterly unique tourism assets to boost the economy and bring employment to rural areas of the country, while at the same time generating high returns on investment for those willing to add value to the country’s burgeoning tourism industry

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Why choose Zambia as a tourist destination?

Zambia has many attributes and unique selling points that distinguish it from the rest of Africa. First of all, it is a peaceful country, which has never had a war. Adding to that, Zambia has not been plagued with terrorist attacks. The people of Zambia are warm and welcoming. Zambians have been dubbed the friendliest people in Africa. This has been endorsed by respected institutions, such as the Economic Intelligence Unit. Zambia is also unique in its cultural heritage. It has 72 established tribes that live together in harmony. With so many different tribes, you’d expect there’d be fighting, but this is not the case. They’ve established two languages and two tribes. It has led to a diverse cultural heritage with more than 50 traditional ceremonies. Then, of course, we have spectacular nature.

 

What does Zambia offer in terms of nature that distinguish it as a destination?

Zambia also has unique products that distinguish it as a destination. There are 20 national parks, and more than 30 per cent of the whole landmass of Zambia has been reserved for wildlife. The wildlife sanctuaries are as natural as they can be and haven’t been over-commercialised. Zambian wilderness is still pristine and unspoiled as Zambia still has a small population, with only 14 million people over a landmass of more than 750,000 square kilometres. Zambia can provide an excellent wildlife experience. It has the big five safari animals, which can be seen without hassle, especially in parks like South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi.  Zambia is also the home of the mighty Victoria Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in the world, and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. There is a lot of adventure tourism: bungee jumping, white water rafting, scuba diving, a lot of water sports. Zambia has the largest total fresh water resources. More than 40 per cent of the total fresh water resources in southern Africa are found in Zambia, even though Zambia is landlocked. This landlocked position also means that it is easy to visit other countries, as Zambia is bordered by eight of them.

“This is a defining time for Zambian economic development because the government has come to realise the great opportunity tourism offers”

How would you describe the state of Zambian tourism today?

This is a defining time for Zambian economic development because the government has come to realise the great opportunity tourism offers. Tourism creates more jobs than any other sector. In terms of return on investment, tourism gives the investor the fastest return. Tourism is a big opportunity to create jobs for the most vulnerable rural populations. It is a product that’s consumed at the point where it’s produced, so the more tourism investment there is, the more jobs are created for rural populations. In this global tourism sector, where people are hungry to discover new destinations, we offer Zambia as the newly packaged destination in southern Africa.

 

Today, around 60,000 British tourists come to Zambia every year, representing a major market. What has been the imprint of the United Kingdom on Zambian tourism?

The relationship with the United Kingdom can be traced back to Scottish explorer, David Livingstone. The explorer visited Africa, long before the British arrived, and wrote a lot about Zambia. He is recorded as the first westerner to have set eyes on the Victoria Falls. He wrote in his diary: “No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England… scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” Today the Zambian side of the Victoria Falls offers helicopter rides for tourists. These rides have been nicknamed the “flight of the angels.” There is a lot of influence from the colonial era and beyond. Zambia has strong historical ties with the United Kingdom, and the relationship remains strong today, something which should be used to Zambia’s advantage. 

There is a rich natural heritage in Zambia, which includes the Kuomboka ceremony of the Lozi tribe of western Zambia. In her early reign, Queen Elizabeth even participated in this ceremony in which the king migrates from the winter palace to the summer palace because of flooding on the floodplains. And even today, every Zambian speaks English because of the cultural education system that was set up by the British. Our dress, our food, our houses, and our traditions share similarities, and the political system is still British.

Many of the lodges in the national parks are also owned by Zambians of British descent. They’re unique lodges because they’re high end and attract the very top of the tourist market. We usually refer to them as small, five-star, owner-run lodges, and they are ideal for the high-end British travellers to come and experience a land which, once upon a time, used to be a colony of Britain.

“In terms of return on investment, tourism gives the investor the fastest return”

Can you talk about the protection of wildlife and Zambia’s role in that, and your efforts against poaching?

Zambia has 20 national parks, which is a lot more national parks than most of the destinations in the sub-region. If that’s not enough, Zambia has 36 game management areas for effective wildlife protection. At the moment, the country is investing in recruiting and training more game wardens. This is in collaboration with any private sector interests that come up and say that they would like to help with protection because this is a resource or a heritage that should never be allowed to be lost. There are other government-led initiatives such as subletting the management of wildlife sanctuaries to certain private sector companies. The Kasanka Trust is managing a smaller national park in the central part of Zambia called Kasanka, which is about 400 square kilometers. This park has a massive bat migration, which is a spectacle that is unique to Zambia. In around October and November, about twelve million fruit eating bats descend from Congo. They come to roost and brood for two months. They roost and bear young between October and December, and then they fly back. It’s a spectacle because this has been dubbed to be the largest mammalian migration in the world. Even bigger than the wildebeest.

 

But the wildebeest is also a spectacle to be seen here in Zambia.

Yes, the wildebeests do a mini migration in a newer national park, pretty much in the same way the Kenyan wildebeests migrate.

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If you could describe three scenes that would be engraved in the mind of a tourist when they come to Zambia, what would they be, excluding the falls?

First and foremost, visit the national parks to see wildlife in its authentic environment. It is an environment untampered with by humans, not overdeveloped, the trees haven’t been cut and the animals are happy. South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi, or Kafue national parks are excellent examples. The impacts of Zambia’s traditional ceremonies are also dramatic on visitors, as they are unique experiences. Thirdly, we have adventure. Livingstone is now the adventure capital of Southern Africa. There are many adventure products that have just been developed by the private sector in Livingstone. Bungee jumping, river cruises on the Zambezi River, scuba diving, white water rafting and jet-skiing, helicopter flights over the falls, and more.

 

What are niches in the tourism market that Zambia caters to or aims to target? 

Zambia is tourist destination of the future, for the reasons previously mentioned, but also because business tourism has been growing by leaps and bounds. Zambia hosted the United Nations General Assembly in 2013, and ever since then, Zambia has been growing as a business tourism destination. I call upon all conference organizers to consider Zambia for their conferences and workshops. After the business is wrapped up, there is so much for conference participants to do. There are many world-class shopping malls, one can go and sample great and touristic products like safaris or enjoy great sports facilities. There’s also city tourism. Lusaka, for example, has quite a lot to offer, including art galleries, cultural centres, game ranches and great restaurants. It makes visitors feel at home.

Furthermore, sports is another potential area for tourism, Zambia is a great football nation. It won the Junior Africa Cup last year, and has set up some great infrastructure for athletics, including football. Foreign teams are coming to play in Zambia.