Feature: Zambian tour guides work to promote local tourism amid pandemic

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LUSAKA, April 22 (Xinhua) — The past one-year has been a very difficult one for the tourism sector in Zambia, which, like that of any developing country, relies heavily on international visitors to survive.

By mid 2020, many of those that were once employed in this sector had already lost their jobs as businesses folded due to a drastic reduction in the number of international tourists.

It is for this reason that 35-year-old Joseph Phiri, a tour guide with experience spanning over 10 years embarked on an initiative aimed at encouraging indigenous Zambians to visit tourist sites in the country and contribute to the survival of the tourism industry.

Phiri, who prior to the advent of COVID-19 coordinated group tours for mainly international travelers, has been organizing group tours to popular tourist sites in Zambia.

The return tour packages include transport to and from tourist destination locations, boat cruises, site visits as well as lodging and food and cost 2,000 to 3,000 Zambian Kwacha (about 90 to 135 U.S. dollars) per individual, for three days.

“COVID-19 is a real threat to the tourism sector. One sure way of preventing firms in this sector from shutting down and disappearing completely is by encouraging local people to visit tourist attraction sites,” Phiri asserted.

Currently, arranging for a camping tour to Livingstone, the tourist capital of Zambia, located in the southern part of the country, Phiri revealed that he has received overwhelming response from ordinary Zambians since he started promoting local tourism using social media platforms.

“The whole idea started in July last year under the banner Journey to Samfya, and the response was good. I had over 30 people visit Samfya in Luapula Province of Zambia. Ever since, the response has been overwhelming to an extent that I have had to turn away a good number of people at some point because I only need a maximum of 60 per trip,” said Phiri, a resident of Livingstone.

He observed that despite Zambia possessing a lot of tourist attractions, very few local people are interested in visiting these sites dotted across the country because of the notion that it is a costly undertaking.

“Many Zambians think that it is expensive to visit tourist destinations and so they leave it to international tourists whom they think have the financial capacity to do so. One does not need to stay in an expensive hotel as affordable lodging and a host of other tourism products are readily available countrywide,” Phiri explained.

Deborah Mwinda, 40, one of the many local tourists that have participated in tour trips organized by Phiri said the trips are worthwhile as they gave her the chance to appreciate Zambia’s natural beautiful spaces.

“And in this period of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important for people to take a break from their busy schedules once in a while and get to places where they can unwind and recharge,” Mwinda advised.

Mwinad is confident that investment in local tourism will result in more jobs being retained and money realized from tourism ventures being re-invested to boost the domestic economy.

Mwinda’s views were echoed by 38-year-old Phineas Siachingili, a curio maker based in Rufunsa district, located east of Lusaka province, who called for more educational programs encouraging ordinary Zambians to take keen interest in local tourism products.

For his part, Siachingili indicated that his team has started making affordable custom-made curios in an effort to encourage locals to buy his products, which are often purchased by international visitors.

“The closure of tourism-centered businesses has had a profound impact on communities and households that depend on tourism for survival. We all need to play our part to ensure that Zambian tourism thrives,” he said.

According to 2020 a report by the International Growth Centre (IGC), prior to the advent of COVID-19, Zambia’s travel and tourism industry was showing a healthy growth pattern. In 2019, the hospitality industry contributed 7 percent to the country’s GDP and 7.2 percent of total employment creation, translated as 469,000 jobs. International visitors spent a total of 849 million U.S. dollars in the country, representing 10 percent of Zambia’s total earnings in 2019. Enditem

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