Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Trouble with Describing Zambia

I had the opportunity to play the role of being a tourist a couple of weeks ago. I was visiting four cities in four different countries. Namely, Paris (France), Brussels (Belgium), Cologne (Germany) and Amsterdam (Netherlands). As I was on this trip as a tourist, I could not help but get a nostalgic feeling about my very own Livingstone. The town that is supposed to be our tourist capital and the contrast was stark and often times it left me frustrated. There is something that we are not doing right with our tourism industry.

Zambia is still relatively unknown to most people outside the African continent. I would think that by mentioning I come from the country that has the Victoria Falls it would immediately click in people's minds that I am referring to Zambia. Nope. Usually the response was, "You are from Zimbabwe?". I had to say, "No Zambia, we share the Victoria Falls with Zimbabwe." And if by any chance the person I was talking to did not know Zimbabwe either, all I had to mention was the name Robert Mugabe and voila, everyone knew him. Surely Zambia cannot be that obscure from the rest of the world that we do not have much to offer the world. Once we have successfully shot down all our lions and cheetahs, I am afraid we may delve into further obscurity.

I will admit despite the song that every president for the last 25+ years has been singing about the diversification of the economy by exploiting the tourism sector, we have hardly made a dent on the global tourism landscape. I was in Livingstone during Easter 2014, and noticed that even though some progress had been made in our tourist capital there was need for it to be accelerated even further. Besides Livingstone is not the cheapest place to be a tourist, especially if you are a local one, with the exception of the falls and museum most activities are pricey. During my four-country trip there were plenty of free things to do in these cities. I was able to grasp a few lessons that I will share.

Paris, France
Wall of Love

Paris is the most visited city in the world and I believe it deserves all the accolades bestowed upon it. There is plenty to do in Paris apart from the must visit to the Eiffel Tower, the city offers plenty of free activities for tourists on a budget. They have well manicured parks, sculptures, the Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysée, and the Notre Dame Cathedral. However, I wish to bring your attention to a wall. Yes the Wall of Love. Basically that is all it is a wall with the words 'I Love You' in languages from around the world scribbled on it. You can imagine the number of tourists who trek there to take their pictures. Of course, I was able to find Ndakuyanda, Nimakukonda and Nalikutemwa on it. We need a wall too.

Brussels, Belgium

Despite its relatively small size to other capital cities in Europe, Brussels has been able to squeeze out the cash from the tourists by successfully marketing their food. Anchoring this marketing vehicle is their chocolates and waffles. It is all you ever hear about, "You need to taste the chocolates and waffles". Even if you have no desire for chocolates and waffles whatsoever, and chips too, it almost feels like you are committing a grave sin if you do not taste them. Therefore, you are obliged to buy the chocolates and waffles just to tick the box. Imagine if finkubala, inswa, mabuyu, nshima, were marketed in the same way as must taste dishes for every tourist.

Cologne, Germany

Love Lock Bridge

Cologne had a bridge that is known as  the 'Love Lock Bridge'. A similar bridge was also in existence in Paris but the locks were removed two days before I got there. This is simply a bridge where people go to put locks on. However, it is the story behind the placing of the locks that drive thousands of tourists there to put locks on the bridge. The story is that couples go to the bridge and place the lock there as a sign of locking their love. They then toss the key into the Rhine river, signifying that their love will last forever. I admit, a number of them must have broke-up by now, but the gesture itself is worth doing. Once again, imagine if we developed a story that if you go with your loved one to the knife bridge when the falls is in full force and you both get socked and kiss, blessings will shower on your relationship. Something more creative than that can be made up.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Words. Words that spelt out I AMSTERDAM pronounced as I AM AMSTERDAM. Kwasila. It is a cliché to take your picture by these letters in Amsterdam but who cares. Thousands still do it. It is almost impossible to get a clear shot of the words because there always people clamouring around it. It has become a must visit place for tourist. Zambia can have something similar, it can be the sculpture of the big five, the map of Southern Province, a tusk, something that we can associate Livingstone or any city with it.

As I was planning the trip, the first thing that came to my mind was, what free things to do. This was not a luxurious trip, when I am rich I will do one. This was purely on a budget. Zambia has many things it can capitalise on with proper marketing. Even though playing parks have almost vanished in the country and the lions and cheetahs are been shot down for fun, there is more that we can use to attract visitors to the country and raise its profile. It just requires a bit of creativity, innovation, weird stories and effective marketing to get the ball rolling. It is also time we enhanced the visibility of the country's other tourists spot and strategically placing sculptures, walls or anything we come up with might be one way of doing so. I am tired of having to describe Zambia as the country that has the Victoria Falls or the country that won the Africa Cup in 2012. One day I should be able to say the country that makes the best nshima, and everyone will know which country am referring to.