By Chatula Kangali –
THERE is a need to harness the inherent potential of the Northern circuit by upgrading critical infrastructure and extensive marketing of tourist attractions.
This region is blessed with various natural resources such as water falls which if well exploited can attract thousands of tourists and contribute to the economic development of the country.
This circuit, if well exploited, can be the most attractive destination for tourism not only in the country but the region at large.
The circuit which encompasses four provinces, namely Central, Luapula, Muchinga and Northern has a rich endowment of natural heritage and tourism attractions such as water falls, wildlife, memorial sites and sandy beaches among others.
When it comes to waterfalls, the Victoria Falls is the most spoken as it is among the seven wonders and is Zambia’s pride in the tourism sector.
But the northern circuit is blessed with beautiful waterfalls which, if well marketed, can receive more visitations from both local and foreign tourists than the mighty Victoria Falls.
The circuit is home of the beautiful Lumangwe falls which is referred to as the mini version of the Victoria Falls.
Lumangwe falls is 30-40m tall and spans a width of around 160 metres making it a classic block-type waterfall which is memorable.
This waterfall is located on the border of Kawambwa and Mporokoso districts in Luapula and Northern Province respectively on the Kalungwishi River.
According to the National Heritage Conservation Commission, (NHCC) the falls attracts a visitation of about 500 tourists a month of which mostly are locals.
A few kilometres away from Lumangwe falls is the Kabwelume which also is on the Kalungwish River which has a converging waterfall set.
The Ntumbachushi falls on Ngona River in Kawambwa district is another tourism site that has beautiful curtains and scenery full of water plants.
Mumbuluma falls is a set of waterfalls made up of two waterfalls occurring in succession, an upper and lower falls. It is located on the Mumbuluma River in Mansa District.
In Kasama, there are the Chishimba falls which have three waterfalls along the Luombe River. The individuals named Mutumuna, Kaela and Chishimba are separated by a distance of about 1,000 feet.
According to NHCC, the falls has the second highest visitation after Victoria falls with more than 2000 tourists, mostly locals visiting the site in a month.
NHCC Chishimba falls site manager Joseph Museba said despite the outbreak of the pandemic; more tourists were visiting the falls.
He says Chishimba falls covered about 700 hectares were unique because they had different vegetation, unique trees, orchids and a variety of frog types.
Kalambo falls located on the board of Zambia and Tanzania in Mbala district in Northern Province is the second deepest lake in Africa and the eleventh in the world with a depth of 221 meters deep.
Despite the astonishing beauty of these waterfalls, the road networks and supporting infrastructure has been the major hindrance in growing visitations in the circuit.
For example, Zambia is said to be losing out in revenue because local and foreign tourists prefer viewing the Kalambo falls on the Tanzanian side.
Kalambo falls assistant conservation officer Christian Chishimba says tourists were by-passing Zambia to view the Kalambo falls from the Tanzanian side.
Mr Chishimba said Tanzania had belt staircases down to the falls that attracted tourists who were able to view the falls closer.
“From the time Tanzania began to build cases, the number of tourists coming here has dropped. As you can see there are people walking down there to get closer to the water falls compared to here where we just see it from afar,” he said.
Investors in the circuit have cited high tourism taxes and levies, the payments in dollars as the major hindrance in opening up the area.
Local investor Geoffrey Chella Sipanje says the provision of tax breaks by the government in the tourism sector can help open up the area.
Mr Sipanje who is the proprietor of Lake Chila Resort and the Kalambo falls lodge in Mbala district says locals were paying lots of taxes and fees in dollars to set up investments in tourism.
He says the high taxes and fee payments in dollars were hindering locals from investing in the northern tourism circuit.
“We need tax breaks, investing in the northern tourism circuit which is mostly rural is risky and capital is high. Tax breaks and payment of other fees in Kwacha will help investments in the circuits to take roots,” he said.
Mr Sipanje says the northern circuit had a number of tourism sites which needed supporting infrastructure like resorts, game parks, hotels and lodges to attract more people to visit the area.
He says the high taxes for tourism investment and payments in dollars were only attracting foreigners who had already dominated the sector in the country.
Mr Sipanje called on the government to extend the concession licenses in the tourism sector from the current 15 years to 30 to 50 years.
He said the 15 years concession license was discouraging investment in the local tourism sector.
Mr Sipanje called on the government to improve the road infrastructure in the northern circuit as it was hindering tourists from visiting the place.
He called for the construction of the bridge on the Lufubu River to connect to Nsumbu Game Park and Kasaba Bay and open up the area for tourism.
In order to address some of the challenges and grow the numbers in the circuit, the government in the 2022 budget identified tourism as a key sector in growing the economy.
In the budget, Finance and National Planning Minister Stumbeko Muskotwane proposed the extension of relief measures granted to the sector for another year applicable to accommodation establishments, convention centers and tourism enterprises.
In this regard, the waiver of customs duties on safari game viewing vehicles, tourist buses and coaches has been extended to December31,2023.
In order to maintain a stable economic landscape to reduce the cost of doing business, Dr Musokotwne revealed that the government plans to carry out a review and reduction of the multiplicity of licenses.
The Government says it will in the next five years develop other parts of the country such as the northern tourism circuit to make them more attractive for the private sector to establish hotels, lodges and other tourism facilities.
Dr Musokotwane said continued engagement of development partners and other stakeholders to undertake studies relating to some tourism related projects.
He says the government plans to complete developments at Kasaba Bay, the Liuwa National Park and establish necessary infrastructure and regulatory framework in other parts of the country.
The minister said an allocation of K150 million has been made towards Kasaba Bay and urged tourism sector players to take advantage of Zambia’s hosting of the Africa Union Assembly of Heads of States and governments in 2022 to market the country and offer attractive tour packages Visa fees of all categories proposed to be reduced by 50 per cent.
If various infrastructures such as roads, bridges, hotels and investments are put in place, it will be very easy to market the circuit.
Thanks to the ministry of tourism through the Zambia Tourism Agency (ZTA) for their efforts to market the circuit.
Recently, ZTA partnered with the media in marketing the northern tourism circuit. It sponsored a team of journalists to visit the area and appreciate the site and challenges it faces.
ZTA communications and corporate affairs manager Betty Chabala says the institution with the help of the ministry would continue to market the falls on both local and international markets with help of the media.
Ms Chabala said ZTA was promoting northern circuit tourism as it had abundant natural water resources.
She said the opening up of the northern circuit tourism would promote investment in the sector and grow the economy.