LUSAKA, May 9 - Zambia's economy has become increasingly diversified from the traditional copper mining to tourism, which is poised to become one of the major creators of wealth in the country.
The industry holds the potential for increased value added goods and services, as it has linkages to a number of different sectors as well as the capacity to generate employment.
Latest indicators have suggested that the industry had improved with the upturn attributable to a number of factors being the strategically and centrally located as well as having unique and authentic tourism products.
The liberalisation of the economy has a major impact on the industry as the private sector become increasingly involved in the development of the sector as witnessed by the upsurge of private tourism operators.
However, for Government to fully achieve its goals and objectives on poverty reduction through the industry, it should acknowledge that community and private sector participation in tourism development is crucial in realising the full potential of the sector as a catalyst for sustainable socio-economic development.
And to achieve this, Government should formulate appropriate tourism policies, legislation and regulations to develop the infrastructure in tourism priority areas, to promote investment and most importantly to encourage private sector and community participation as well as marketing Zambia in the niche market.
Although the Government has set up a clear position on the importance of community participation especially in the rural areas and as enshrined in the country's tourism policy local people participation is still marginal particularly regarding ownership of tourism enterprises.
All the major tourism facilities are predominantly foreign owned.
However, local people are involved through direct employment and in very few cases, indirectly through the supply of complementary products and services.
Direct employment for the local communities is perhaps the single acknowledged benefit from tourism.
The significant of direct employment and its contribution to the local economies and poverty reduction differs between areas depending on the volume and quality of employment generated.
In Livingstone, for instance, the more developed and more urbanised and with numerous tourist enterprise cutting across all levels, several hundreds of local people earn their income from direct employment in these enterprises.
For rural and remote areas such as Rufunsa and Chiawa, according to a presentation at the just ended workshop on tourism and poverty reduction by University of Zambia (UNZA) head of development studies Chripin Matenga, there are comparatively fewer people engaged in direct employment due to the size and number of tourist enterprise in these areas though a positive impact to the livelihood of those employed and the larger families they support can not be doubted.
Mr Matenga said after the study, he took in Livingstone, Siavonga, Chiawa and Rufunsa, it was recognised that the number of actual and potential tourism linkages in four case study that could spurn some economic benefits for the local poor communities included developing local handcrafts; performing cultural arts and supply of local agro-products.
The supply of local construction materials such as grass and reeds were other factors.
Livingstone stands out as the tourist destination where handcrafts have developed as a spill over effect of tourist development.
Production and sales of local handcrafts has become a major source of livelihood for a growing number of households in the local villages of Mukuni and Songwe.
Cultural arts in form of traditional dances and music are not well developed across the country apart from a few isolated cases in Livingstone and Siavonga where individual tourist enterprise organise cultural groups from the local community to perform cultural dances and music to entertain tourists.
Local sources of agro-products such as fresh vegetables and fruits, particularly of the local community have remained undeveloped because the perception from the demand side is that the local sources can not meet the demand for quality products and can not also assure a reliable service.
Thus most tourist enterprise import most of their agro-products. But supply of local materials such as grass, reeds, stones and wooden poles for construction and rehabilitation of infrastructure such as chalets is becoming a valuable source of income for some households.
In terms of gender, generally both women and men are involved in the industry at different levels but not at the same degree despite Government principle to ensure that there are equal opportunities to both men and women.
To this effect, the national tourism policy document provides for mainstreaming the gender issues.
However, no action plan has been devised to accompany the tourism policy that is supposed to guide the implementations of gender issues of concern in the sector.
For instance, the Government funded programme, Tourism Development Credit Facility (TDCF) loan aimed at empowering vulnerable indigenous Zambians to participate in tourism business has not benefited individual women entrepreneurs or women groups to any significant degree as very few women have so far managed to access the financing facility.