THE Livingstone Tourism Association (LTA) says incentives announced in the 2021 national budget are insufficient to spur the much-needed growth as the tourism sector recovers from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And the Association says the local tourism sector is only expected to kick-start around April, next year, when a COVID-19 vaccine is anticipated to be found.
In an interview, LTA chairperson Rodney Sikumba argued that incentives announced in next year’s budget were insufficient to spur the much-needed growth because there is still insufficient funding to address pressing challenges, such as changing the licencing regime.
Government has proposed to suspend license of renewal fees paid by hotels and lodges, among other measures, to resuscitate the tourism industry.
“I don’t think it is enough, what was given to us is just but the many of the proposals that we have put forward to government. We are grateful that they have given us what they have given us now; however, there are certain issues that come to play with the way we run our businesses. The cost of doing business has become increasingly high so some of the policy pronouncements that we are looking out for going forward obviously may not require inclusion in the budget per se, will be issues of statutory obligations. We have got licensing. The licensing regime in this country is on the higher side, you literally pay for anything and everything. However, we have a statutory body, the Business Regulatory Review Agency, which has been mandated to scrutinise and understand what licenses each and every institute, government institution charges the private sector,” Sikumba said.
“Now, that in itself will be able to speak to us. So, we need to have one single window. If I am tour operator, I need to have one licence, a license that’s embedded everything in it. Business license, liquor licence, tourism license, whatever it is. Give me a ball-park figure then I will be able to understand to say, ‘this is what I am paying for…’ Even for budget purposes, it works out okay.”
He, however, noted that if the proposed incentives were actualised, they would be a step in the right direction.
“Should those incentives be approved as proposed by the Minister of Finance (Dr Bwalya Ng’andu), I think we will be taking a good step in the right direction with regards to where tourism is going to go going forward. And this, obviously, will resonate with the Seventh National Development Plan (SNDP) of having tourism as one of the three key sectors. Now, will it stir tourism in the sector, especially domestic, well I think policy is made, I think the next step that we need to really put into consideration, now, is the implementation. Policy is just a paper, is it something that is working downstream so that incentives, such as duty exemption on motor vehicles, incentives, such as scraping of managers’ licence and the like. So, the respective agencies within government need to show that they are implementing, otherwise, it will just be a pipe dream,” he added.
“So, in an ideal world, should those be implemented and are running as per usual then we will be able to say for domestic tourism, it will work very well, not only domestic, but as well as international. International in the sense that now, in terms of equipment, in terms of service, we will now be able to get better equipment to use in activities. If you are talking about cars, game viewers, those are things that most of these international agents are looking out for; they don’t want to get into a car, which is 10 years plus (old). If you give them a brand new car, they will be happier and we will become more attractive as a destination. Those brand new cars we are talking about are very expensive. For an average tour operator in Zambia, you won’t be able to afford it. So, once implemented, it’s a good sign.”
He added the proposed incentives will help to spur local tourism as more local players will be encouraged to invest in the sector.
And Sikumba said that the local tourism sector was expected to recover by April, next year, on the back of a highly-anticipated COVID-19 vaccine.
“We are already hearing about the second wave of COVID-19 in Europe so we don’t know exactly what is going to happen, but I think we just need to focus on local and then go regional until we get the vaccine. In the absence of the vaccine, I don’t see us really making any headway, but like I said before, we are only looking at turning the tourism economy sometime next year in March/April, that’s when we will start seeing tangible bookings,” said Sikumba.