There has been a lot of emphasis placed on promoting international tourism in Zambia, with little attention given to domestic tourism, which is often relegated to being a buffer for the tourism industry’s off-seasons, when there are fewer international guests.
This is unfortunate in the wake of the recent turmoil that has rocked the industry. When international travelers were forced to stay home due to COVID-19 lockdowns, tour operators were forced to look to the fact that domestic tourism can play a key role in shaping the future, beyond just revitalizing the sector after COVID-19.
When inflow of international travelers decreased by up to 80 percent and bookings were cancelled due to global lockdown measures, Zambians were called upon to help the industry stay afloat. They responded to this distress call and took advantage of discounts and other promotional packages that some operators were offering. They also spread word of special offers and the need to visit various destinations to help people working in tourism keep their jobs.
For a country like Zambia, which attracts considerably fewer international tourists than countries in the region such as South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, the need to promote domestic tourism cannot be overemphasized.
Having a stable base of local tourists would not only complement the tourism sector’s low share of international guests, it would also help cushion operators from severe impacts of losing international tourists due to unforeseen circumstances in the future. As mentioned earlier, when Zambians were called upon to visit the country’s tourist destinations in order to help the industry survive the impacts of COVID-19, many did. Imagine what can be possible if deliberate steps are taken to keep the momentum going?
Promoting domestic tourism would also have conservation benefits. Zambia’s conservation sector is intricately linked with tourism. Public resources allocated to conservation over the years have been low. According to a report by International Growth Centre (IGC) in Zambia, between 2010 and 2018, only an average of 0.6% of Zambia’s national budget was allocated to environmental and wildlife conservation. As a result, conservation activities have heavily depended on funding from donor organizations and tourism firms. Boosting domestic tourism will increase operators’ profits which would translate to increased donations to the conservation sector. For the conservation sector, increased funding would ensure that Zambia’s ecosystems and wildlife are protected.
The Government also recognizes the strategic role that domestic tourism can play, as it has been identified as one of Zambia’s promising prospects for economic growth and sustainable conservation. Earlier this year, Tourism and Arts Minister Ronald Chitotela called on tourism operators to partner with Government to reduce the cost of domestic tourism in Zambia after COVID-19. In a statement issued to the media by the Ministry Public Relations Officer Sakabilo Kalembwe in April, the Minister implored tourism operators to “see what they can give to the Zambian people so that domestic tourism can be boosted.”
Zambia is endowed with many beautiful landscapes and some incredible heritage sites. The country currently has 20 national parks that hold a great diversity of wildlife. This includes the world-renowned Kafue, Liuwa and South Luangwa national parks, which are counted among the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world. Combine this with diverse cultures and the many museums dotted across the country and you end up with something that can truly be appreciated by the local people.
It is worth noting that promoting domestic tourism cannot be achieved by the Government and tourism operators alone. We all have a part to play. As citizens of this beautiful and resource-rich country, we need to extend the “support your local team” slogan to the country’s tourism industry because supporting Zambia’s tourism is supporting local businesses and local communities. And while it is true that some operators may need to reduce their prices to cater for the local nature enthusiasts working with a tight budget, there are many establishments that are actually affordable. All that remains is for us to identify them and take advantage of their packages.
As global lockdown measures are slowly lifted and Zambia prepares to re-open its boarders for international tourists, players in the tourism sector should remember that while domestic tourists may not provide as much money as international tourists, the sustainability of the industry depends on Zambians buying into the idea that they can enjoy all that the country has to offer, without breaking the bank.
In other words, international tourism is what has sustained Zambia’s tourism sector up to this point, but domestic tourism is what will take it to the next level.