By Percy Mabvuto-Ngwira, MSc in International Rural Development – Tourism Development UK.
In the year 1996, the government reclassified the tourism sector from a social to an economic category. This was a recognition of the sector’s potential to contribute to economic development in terms of, Inter alias, foreign exchange earnings, employment and income generation, contribution to government revenues, promotion of rural development and as well as perform the role of sustainable development catalyst (Tourism Policy for Zambia,1999). Fifteen years down the road, we are still singing about the countries’ tourism potential.
The government within this policy provisions has tried its best to realign the industry. In terms of marketing the policy states that “The marketing and promotion of the country’s tourist attractions shall continue to be the responsibility of Zambia National Tourism Board (ZNTB).The Board shall be transformed into a purely marketing entity. Its regulatory and licensing functions shall be transferred to the Tourism Management Directorate at the Ministry of Tourism. The new organisation shall retain its autonomous status and with improved funding be able to better carry out its marketing, sales promotion, public relations and image building and publicity functions.” In line with this on 30th November, 2007 the Zambian Parliament Enacted the Zambia Tourism Board Act No. 24 of 2007 of the Laws of Zambia. This Act is entitled as “An Act to provide for the establishment of the Zambia Tourism Board and define its functions; to provide for the promotion and marketing of Zambia as a tourist destination within and outside Zambia; and to provide for matters connected with or incidental to the foregoing.”
Despite all these efforts by government; Zambia in partially and largely Zambia Tourism Board has failed to market the tourism potential of this great nation. Every year before drafting the Tourism Department budget, the Zambia Tourism Board and the tourism industry at large asks for extra budget for marketing Zambia ‘abroad’ as a tourist destination of choice. Marketing, according to them, is the most important issue in tourism, and, therefore, it follows that it should be large-scale and consistent.
Annually government has provided Zambia Tourism Board with ‘enough funding’. For example in the year 2011 budget Minister of Finance and National Planning Hon. Musokotwane MP, has been very kind to Zambia Tourism Board “Mr. Speaker, prospects remain bright for our tourism sector over the medium-term, in line with a projected uptake in global tourism. For Zambia, tourism continues to represent a key source of jobs, prosperity, and competitiveness, particularly in rural areas. To continue the development of this sector, I have allocated K63.3 billion in 2011.The main focus in the sector will be to take full advantage of the recovery in global tourism to reposition Zambia as a premier nature, wildlife, and cultural tourism destination. This will be done through increased marketing activities, for which I have allocated K12.8 billion.”
Despite this kind of funding, ZTB has hit a decade-long plateau of failure to make Zambia a destination of choice. People in the tourism field explain that a large marketing budget or funding is not enough. A serious, well targeted and constantly evaluated marketing plan is needed as well, and this, they claim, can only be drafted through industry-wide cooperation, mainly through establishing a national tourism partnership with cross cutting partners in various industries.
Zambia Tourism Board has failed us, in coming up with a National tourism Marketing plan that will stand a test of time, incorporating marketing strategies for both Local and International markets. One of the most important steps a business or country can take to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their tourism marketing efforts is to develop a written marketing plan. This plan will guide their marketing decisions and assist them in allocating marketing resources such as money and personnel time. Most importantly to be included is a method for evaluation and change.
With ZNTB then and now ZTB, we have never seen evaluation and change in their annual tourism ‘marketing plans’. Unless there is anyone to prove me wrong, I have never witnessed at any point where ZTB carries out a marketing survey at the airport, at an exit point or any other place in Zambia; asking the tourist how they enjoyed their stay in Zambia and if they would come back again. With all their international marketing efforts ZTB has never given this nation annual figure of tourists who come due to their international marketing efforts.
In 2005 we had government funded visit Zambia Campaign to date we do not know how many tourists came and how much foreign revenue was earned due to this promotion. Then came 2010 FIFA World Cup where ZTB travelled around the world holding marketing shows. Again no figures on how many international tourists came due to their efforts. Honestly if ZTB could take time and stop to take stock of what they are doing, we could have seen an improvement in the marketing of Zambia as a destination of choice. It is very embarrassing that Zambia failed to take advantage of the first ever FIFA World Cup on the African soil to market itself as a destination of choice; to thousands of soccer fans from around the world that descended on South Africa, to witness this historical event. It is also a shame, that as a country we have failed to take advantage of the internal problems that has been faced by our competitor Zimbabwe in the last five year. Worse with local marketing, ZTB has clearly failed to capture the local market.
Another problem with ZTB’s marketing strategies is its focus on markets that do not need any additional push to come and visit Zambia. Tourism efforts for a long time and in recent years have focused on the European (British), Americans and South Africans. These target markets do not justify the marketing efforts because so many efforts have been put there already. Focusing more marketing efforts on emerging economies like China, India, South Korea, Brazil and Mexico is a strategic prudent move.
If as a country we want to witness tourism sector’s potential to contribute to economic development, it is a mistake to focus all our tourism marketing efforts on the international markets. The new ZTB needs to focus on tourism that perhaps has a local orientation, but with international guaranteed tourists, that comes to Zambia to tour the country, to buy curios, and visit museums and spend their money in the country to the benefit of the local people.