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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 June 2006, 21:40 GMT 22:40 UK
Zambia beckons new wave of tourists

Market stall holder Bright Sabata
Many make their living on the fringes of the tourism industry

BBC News has been to Zambia as part of a special series looking at how Africa is faring one year on after the promises of increased aid made at the G8 summit in Gleneagles.

Jon Cronin reports on the challenges facing Zambia's tourism industry.

Bright Sabata's market stall is crammed full of traditional African crafts and trinkets.

Hemmed in by a dozen other traders, his ceremonial masks and animal-skin drums are displayed alongside cow-bone necklaces and wooden figurines.

It is a sight many visitors would expect to see in Livingstone, Zambia's gateway to the mighty Zambezi river and Victoria Falls.

"Tourism is important for me, it is where I get my living," says Mr Sabata, who carves many of the objects he sells to support himself and his family.

But despite the breathtaking location, Mr Sabata and his fellow traders are not as busy as they would like to be.

Mixed fortunes

Zambia's growing tourism industry is dominated by the Victoria Falls, known locally as Mosi-oa-Tunya.

The Victoria Falls
The Victoria Falls are known as one of the seven wonders of the world

The low rumble of the 100m falls can be heard for miles around, as millions of tonnes of water from the Zambezi fall into a narrow chasm every minute.

Mr Sabata, who hails from the nearby Mukuni village in whose tribal land the falls are situated, has been working from his stall for more than two years.

But as Zambia's tourism industry has been developing, Mr Sabata says the fortunes of the Mukuni people have been sliding at the expense of some of the major developers.

"The life here is a bit okay, but we don't have support," he says. "Instead of going up, the market is going down. The tourists don't come here to buy. We just sell by chance."

'Unpolished gem'

Mr Sabata's pessimism is not shared by all.

Official figures suggest that the tourism industry now employs more than 20,000 people in Zambia.

The government has ambitious plans to bring in a million tourists annually by 2010 - a move which could generate more than $520m in revenue alone.

In Africa, there are really only two places for you to see - the pyramids in Egypt and the Victoria Falls in Zambia
Errol Hickey, Zambia National Tourist board chairman

Zambia also hopes to see the number of people employed in the sector more than double in four years time, a significant potential boost for one of the world's poorest countries.

A short walk from the dusty market where Mr Sabata keeps his stall is the plush, five-star Livingstone Sun hotel.

Based along the banks of the Zambezi, the South African-run hotel is among Zambia's most luxurious, where high-paying guests can encounter wild zebra, monkeys and giraffe in its extensive grounds.

"I think Zambia is an unpolished gem," says general manager Craig Storkey. "Where Zambia was once - and possibly still is - a secondary type of destination, we'd like to see it become a primary destination."

"In the last five years, we've seen a huge amount of growth and interest in Zambia as a tourist destination, and I think as that grows, we will see more hotel development."

Migrating tourists?

Zambia's expansion in the tourism industry has come as many holidaymakers have been deserting its politically unstable southern neighbour, Zimbabwe.

Both countries share a border along the Zambezi, and Zimbabwe was for some time the country where most tourists would base themselves in order to see the Victoria Falls.

But Mr Storkey rejects suggestions that Zambia's gains have come largely at Zimbabwe's expense.

"It's actually very sad," he says. "If it was a case that tourists just migrated across from Zimbabwe to Zambia, we would be running at huge occupancies, which is not the case at all.

"What we've found is that people's geography is not that good. They can't disassociate Zambia and Zimbabwe, they just see it as one region."

However, he adds the situation in Zimbabwe "has given us the chance to establish Zambia as a destination".

'Expensive location'

Unsurprisingly, Zambia's tourism board chief is equally keen to promote Zambia as a choice destination.

Zambia National Tourist board chairman Errol Hickey
Zambia's tourism board chief is bullish about the future

"In Africa, there are really only two places for you to see - the pyramids in Egypt and the Victoria Falls in Zambia," says Errol Hickey, chairman of the Zambia National Tourist board.

Although his words are calculated to raise eyebrows among his counterparts in other African countries, Mr Hickey admits that tourism in Zambia faces its own challenges too.

"The main problem that we have is that Zambia is a fairly expensive destination," he says, referring to the recent soaring value of Zambia's currency, the Kwacha.

"We only have a limited number of beds to offer the international tourist."

In addition, Zambia currently has no international airline of its own after a previous government decided it could no longer afford to run it - a decision Mr Hickey describes as an "awesome blow".

But despite the setbacks, Mr Hickey believes Zambia can continue to develop its tourism industry - encouraging more companies to open new hotels and attract an increasing number of people to some of the most beautiful natural scenery in Africa.

"People have a choice about where they want to go, and that's what the tourism challenge is all about," he says.

"There's a great future for Zambia. It's got a lot to offer."

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