What next after UNWTO?
What I simply mean is that the same question has been racing through our minds ever since the curtains were finally drawn on the epoch-making 2013 UNWTO stage in Livingstone: Where next does Zambia’s tourism go in terms of its promotion and further development?
In one wild, if not weird, stretch of my imagination, I have been toying with the idea that its perhaps time Zambia started harnessing, developing, packaging, marketing and selling her own people as a tourist package.
Wishful or far-fetched as this may sound, the concept itself already exists in the world of tourism. And it’s called ethno-tourism!
Obviously, it may sound like Bob Marley’s “slavish mentality” for a modern-day person like me to suggest that people be ‘sold’ albeit for touristic purposes.
More so here in Zambia where the macrocosm of tourism actually runs no deeper than our “Mighty” Victoria Falls, or flies no higher than our noble eagle, or leaps no farther than our impala, or sounds no louder than our traditional drum.
For those who didn’t know, whole economies in some parts of the world have actually survived and thrived on this same concept of ethno-tourism.
In those countries with no real ‘natural wonders of the world’ to talk about, human beings are the centre of tourism attraction.
Their very ethnic, cultural, political, historical, geographical, social, economic, national and religious identity and heritage form the heartbeat of their booming tourism industry.
So if, for example, a foreign visitor asked me where these ‘real’ Zambians are found who give our nation its indubitable and characteristic national identity, I would simply point them to our vast countryside.
Because therein you find the typically traditional Zambian villager, fisherman, poet, musician, dancer, cook, doctor, painter, hunter etc.
I mean those Zambians who have been spared the taint, dent or influence of the so-called modern civilisation that has reduced whole traditional cultures and peoples in many other parts of the world to tinder ashes of technological bushfires.
Ethno tourism refers to visiting a foreign location for the sake of observing the indigenous members of its society for the sake of non-scientific gain. Some extreme forms of this include attempting to make first contact with tribes that are protected from outside visitors.
Clearly, is it not just like taking water to the river when you want to take, say, an American tourist to a five-star hotel when he has actually left back home hotels that are more five-star than the
Zambian version, vehicles that are posher than ours, buildings that are more sky-scrapping than ours or even hotel meals that are more mouth-watering than ours?
In my view, when a tourist from a developed country undertakes to travel thousands of kilometers to tour a country like Zambia, they are particularly looking for the kind of leisure and pleasure that is totally different from the comfort of their own countries.
They are seeking to find and sample the real ‘Zambian-ness’ that is brewed largely from our countryside pot.
In my view, this is the kind of ethno-touristic route that our nation must now take after successfully co-hosting the 2013 UNWTO indaba with Zimbabwe.
This is what our ministry of Tourism in conjunction with those of Culture, Chiefs, Traditional Affairs and Community Development must concentrate on.
Let’s start taking the foreign tourists to meet the real people in their grass-thatched homes and part-taking of all the activities that form the pulse of our traditional Zambia.
We are a people of diverse and rich cultural backgrounds which give us our national identity and pride as a people.
I am sure our foreign visitors would cherish and relish more the opportunity to see our ever smiling faces, shake our industrious hands, sing our songs, dance to our kawale music, drink our chibwantu, eat our ifisashi, sleep on our reed mats or simply listen to our sun-setting forklore than do some bungee jumping.
I am certain that if the tourist met our real people in the villages, they will have a better story to tell back home about Zambia the real Africa than even the “Mighty” Victoria Falls which they already know about.
And ultimately, our ethno-tourism will become a sure means of empowering our countryside and its people. How about that?
Date: 11 October 2013