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Reflections on Zambian tourism

Reflections on Zambian tourism

Reflections on Zambian tourism

We talk with the directors of Voyagers; Marion, Howard and Grant Gatchell

ZT:  Twenty-five years in the travel industry in Zambia – you have witnessed huge developments. How do you think Zambia stands on the world travel scene?
Zambia stands in its own niche. Some of our weaknesses have become strengths – the very short season which makes Zambian holiday options relatively more expensive. This means that lodges are generally smaller, more exclusive and have a limited impact on the environment.

ZT:  How did Voyagers start?
Marion Gatchell has been in the travel industry in Zambia since 1973 and, with the encouragement of her husband, Howard, decided in 1987 to go it alone. Voyagers has grown from one person in one room, to the largest travel agency in Zambia.

ZT:  How big are you?
Voyagers’ employs a total of 190 people across four separate, limited, companies with branches in Chingola, Kitwe, Lusaka, Ndola, Livingstone and soon in Solwezi.

ZT:  Zambia attracts foreign investors; is the ‘expat’ market your biggest business or do local Zambians travel a lot?
Voyagers are first and foremost a Zambian company serving the Zambian market, so our principle market is Zambian. Expatriates are a key market and we specialize in providing high quality solutions to their travel requirements, which are diverse and can be challenging.

ZT:  What are your most popular out-going destinations?
We send people all over the world; our most popular single destination is Johannesburg – reflecting O.R. Tambo’s status as Southern Africa’s hub and the substantial business done in Gauteng. We can proudly say that Voyagers has been awarded, by South African Airways at the SAA Tourism Awards at Indaba, ‘Best Agent in Southern Africa’ for 2011 and again in 2012. Our most popular holiday destination is the Indian Ocean Islands.

ZT:  When you market Zambia as a world class tourism destination, what do you think is its biggest attraction?
Zambia is richly endowed in natural attractions, premier amongst these are Victoria Falls, the Lower Zambezi National Park and South Luangwa. However there is so much more that is absolutely world class, including Lake Tanganyika, Kafue National Park, Liuwa Plains and many more. The soon-to-be-flooded Kafue Gorge would be an astounding attraction in any country – yet you will struggle to find many people who have even visited this area. Zambia cries out for investment in tourism.

ZT:  Has the current world recession impacted your travel market and what is the current trend?
Our principle market has always been Zambian and this market has proved resilient in recent years despite the world recession, as a result of strong progress in the mining industry and a stable domestic environment. The international market has indeed been challenging.vRecent law changes in Zambia have made the business environment in Zambia less hospitable, with SI 33 in particular making Voyagers role as a Zambian based tour operating company close to impossible, and generally reducing the appeal and ease of selling the Zambian tourism product internationally. The Minimum Wages Act will also negatively impact SMEs.

ZT:  Where is your favourite holiday destination?
My favorite holiday is sitting on the banks of the Luangwa River in the evening watching the magnificent sky as the sun sets, in the total peace, except for the noises of the birds going to bed and the nocturnal animals stirring.

ZT:  The future for Zambian tourism?
Unclear at the moment; not being able to quote in US Dollars means that foreign operators cannot hedge the risk of selling our products and many will choose not to sell the Zambian product, switching sales to other countries. Domestic tourism has strong potential and we might see some of the slack taken up by this source. However recent steps taken by the Government may strengthen the Kwacha and could result in demand for cheaper regional products.

ZT:  Has the UNWTO event in 2013 in Livingstone and Victoria Falls increased travel interest to Zambia?
Larger events tend to raise the profile of destinations; we are optimistic that this will have a positive impact on Livingstone.

ZT:  Where do you see Voyagers Travel in 25 years time?
Voyagers is a flexible and innovative company. We are actively looking for opportunities and will continue to develop our operations.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 10, Sept 2012)

Read more about the region in our destination guide: