Tourism can Aid Economic Growth in Zambia

The tourism industry is a major and growing industry in Zambia. Tourism makes a significant contribution to Zambia’s economy. Second only to agriculture in its potential impact on the poor and due to its labor-intensive nature and potential for backward linkages (local sourcing of inputs), the growth of Zambia’s tourism industry could have a significant impact on formal and informal employment and incomes, particularly in rural areas.

Zambian tourism is underperforming, both in relation to other countries in the region and in relation to its own potential. Zambia receives significantly fewer tourists than might be expected, given its fundamental endowments.   Despite having strong nature tourism attractions, Zambia trails behind many competing nations in the number of visitors, average length of stay and average visitor expenditure.

The Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA)  manages the Mosi‐oa‐Tunya National Park, while the National Heritage Conservation Commission (NHCC) administers the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site. ZAWA positively contributes to the Zambian economy through various fees collected from the park and conserves the national park to ensure that future generations benefit from revenue the park generates. Other ways by which tourism positively benefit the economy include contributing to macroeconomic stability, providing foreign exchange (FOREX), increasing government revenue and creating employment opportunities for citizens.

Indirect income is also generated from tourism. While the Victoria Falls, World Heritage Site, the Mosi‐oa‐Tunya National Park and other tourist attractions collect a fair amount of money from entrance fees and taxes, businesses including hotels, lodges, tour operators, restaurants and stores generate the most income from and for the industry.

Although positive for the economy tourism comes with negative aspects and numerous challenges. For some tourism is seen to have eroded Zambian culture. Following on from colonialism, ethnically different people visit and settle in Zambia. This has generated a culture that has heavy western influences. Rural inhabitants have however retained their indigenous customs and institutions such as the National Heritage Conservation Commission have been established to promote artistic cultural talents.

A further negative aspect of tourism is high rates of crime. Extreme poverty drives many to commit crimes and tourists are victims in some cases. Tourists are for example often targeted in financial scams in which they are requested to pay fees to officials and groups. Travellers are urged to ask for an official receipt from the Government of Zambia in cases where they must pay duties or fines.

When it comes to challenges that prevent the tourism industry from being as successful as it could be, tourism infrastructure in Zambia is largely underdeveloped, particularly roads, railways, airports and airstrips, telecommunications and accommodation facilities. Additionally, with limited product base, most of Zambia’s tourism products are wildlife based, Zambia as a tourist destination is poorly marketed, local populations have minimal interest in the benefits they could reap from their involvement in the tourism industry and most national parks have over the years experienced depletion due to poor management and care.

Zambia faces increased competition from its regional neighbours and this is expected to intensify. South Africa is by far the largest market in the SADC region and accounts for 44 percent of visitor arrivals. Botswana, Tanzania and Namibia are the other major competitors in the SADC region.

Recent economic and political difficulties have to some extent suppressed competition from Zimbabwe, the country that shares Victoria Falls with Zambia. However, Zimbabwe could easily become a fearsome competitor once again. Zimbabwe’s tourism products, which are similar to those made in Zambia but better-developed, are competitively priced. In addition, Zimbabwe benefits from a strong skill base and effective infrastructure.

Despite having strong nature tourism attractions, Zambia trails many competing nations in the number of visitors, average length of stay and average visitor expenditure. Neighbouring country, Botswana has around three times the number of visitors of Zambia, and Zimbabwe has more than double. Zambia’s average visitor stay is also in decline. Zambia’s shorter length of stay translates into lower gross receipts per tourist trip compared to its regional competitors.

Zambia’s tourism industry could come closer to reaching its potential, through developing a wide, accessible, attractive, saleable and abundant product range. Increased visitor numbers, length of stay, expenditure and investment (both domestic and foreign) will also help this cause. This could create more jobs and contribute to poverty reduction. Zambia’s tourist attractions, combined with a growing global market for nature based and African tourism products, provides an excellent opportunity for Zambia’s tourism industry to expand.

For the Zambian tourism sector to contribute more to GDP and probably perform better on the international scene, the tourism sector needs to be developed in a manner that encourages tourists to spend more money and time in the country. When tourists visit the country, they purchase goods and use services. A longer stay by the tourists means that more income is generated by the tourism sector.


Featured image | Victoria Fall Zambia | flickr

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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