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Africa Report


VOL.7 September 2015
Destination Zambia
Livingstone promoted to premier travel destination as Zambia hopes to cross the 1-million tourist mark by 2015
By Humphrey Nkonde

Elephant watching at Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park

The number of tourists visiting Zambia is projected to go beyond the 1-million mark by the end of this year. And the magnet attracting many of these visitors is the town of Livingstone, home to the Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Victoria Falls on the mighty Zambezi River is a UNESCO heritage site shared by Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In 2013, Zambia and Zimbabwe co-hosted the 20th General Assembly of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) with Livingstone and Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls Town as the twin venues.

According to the Zambia Tourism Board (ZTB), there were 946,969 tourists in 2014, a marginal rise from 914,576 in 2013. The Minister of Tourism and Arts, Jean Kapata, recently said the number of visitors is expected to hit the 1-million mark by the end of 2015. Kapata said the projection followed the UNWTO meeting, which spurred tourism activities and helped to promote Zambia as an attractive destination with its peaceful environment and outdoor lifestyle.

Kapata told Lusaka Times that connectivity is a major challenge. There are no direct flights from other international cities to capital city Lusaka. "Aeroplanes have to stop at other destinations before coming to Zambia, but we're working on that not only to woo tourists but investors too," she said.

Zambian Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Margaret Mwanakatwe told Lusaka Times the government was eager to re-establish a national flag carrier which would link Zambia to the rest of the world. She said the airline is expected to be operational by the end of June 2016, after a 20-year absence.

The ZTB recognizes China as one of its tourist source countries. Last year, it culminated in the ZTB and the Zambian Embassy in Beijing collaborating with the China Outbound Travel and Tourism Market, China's leading outbound travel and tourism exhibition, China Central Television and China Southern Airlines to promote tourism. Chinese tourists to Zambia numbered 67,000 in 2014, according to the ZTB.

Owing to the growing number of Chinese tourists, most notably to Livingstone, the town has seen high-class hospitality infrastructure coming up to cater to their needs. The three-star Chinese-styled Oriental Swan and Golden Chopsticks hotels were both built with Chinese investment and ensure Chinese tourists enjoy familiar surroundings while in Livingstone.

Kapata has also said the government is trying to find an investor to construct another big hotel of international standards in Livingstone near the Victoria Falls. 

The Smoke that Thunders

All the facilities, infrastructure and flight upgrades have one purpose - to get people to Livingstone to see the thundering curtain of water that leaves most people speechless on first sight. From the time Scottish explorer David Livingstone (after whom the town is named) sighted the Victoria Falls on November 16, 1855, the spectacular 2-km wide and more than 100-meter deep natural wonder, called the Smoke that Thunders by the local people, has attracted tourists from all over the world.

It was the directive of Cecil John Rhodes, the British imperialist founder of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), that the bridge over the Victoria Falls should be constructed in such a way that road and rail passengers would be able to view the cascading waters as they crossed the Zambezi. The bridge was officially opened in 1905 by Sir George Darwin, the son of the famous biologist Charles Darwin whose On the Origin of the Species paper argued that Africa was the cradle of humanity where the species evolved from primates.

Today, besides being a crossing facility between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the Victoria Falls Bridge offers one of the deepest bungee jump spots in the world. Jumpers throw themselves into the depths of the Zambezi gorge from ropes fastened to the parapet of the bridge and it has become something of a pilgrimage for adrenalin junkies to test their mettle here.

The area surrounding the falls is covered by a dense spray during the rainy season from November to April, requiring visitors to use raincoats and umbrellas if they wish to go near the falling waters or view rainbows in the gorge. The Knife Edge Bridge, a few meters in front of the falls, is obscured by the spray during this time, but in the dry season, visitors strategically position themselves there to take photographs of the falling water as well as the Victoria Falls Bridge. 

Livingstone's attractions

The Livingstone Museum is a repository of Zambian history and culture. It was opened by the British colonial government in 1934, making it the oldest in the country.

Local artworks from artists living in the Mukuni and Songwe settlements around Livingstone are sold at the museum, providing them much-needed employment. They are very popular with Chinese tourists.

For wildlife lovers, the 66-square-km Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, stretching for about 12 km up the Zambezi above the falls, is a great area to enjoy the likes of the hippopotamus, crocodile, elephant, buffalo, giraffe and rhinoceros. The park's small area allows visitors to drive comfortably in their own vehicles or take advantage of the organized tours on offer. As an added attraction, elephant-back safaris have been introduced recently. At the Mukuni Research Center, where the endangered cheetah is bred for conservation, visitors can be educated about the world's fastest animal and walk with them.

Other attractions - white water rafting, canoeing, abseiling, microlighting, jet boating and horseback trails - make Livingstone a great getaway for escaping the rat race.

The town's Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport has been renovated by Zambian and Chinese contractors and the National Airports Corp. has added an ultra-modern terminal. The airport has a throughput capacity of 1 million passengers. But the number of current travelers is hovering around 200,000, combining domestic and international arrivals, operating at about one-fifth capacity only.

(Reporting from Zambia)





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