YESTERDAY Zambia celebrated World Wildlife Day and joined the rest of world in marking this important day on the world calendar.
The occasion presented a good opportunity for the country to highlight its tourism potential as a major tourist destination.
For years Zambia has been a leader in this field and there is no reason why it must let up. Tourism is not only a major foreign exchange earner but employer as well. That is why every effort must be made to remodel this vital industry.
As Government embarks on the diversification of the economy tourism must take its place at the top of the priority ladder. Tourism can do wonders for our country. Indeed its pristine wildlife can make the country a major destination of choice for international safari operators.
Very soon tourists may not be coming to Zambia to see the Victoria Falls alone. Its breathtaking beauty might be challenged by the equally spectacular waterfalls and cataracts in the Northern Circuit of Northern, Luapula and Muchinga provinces.
What is key in tourism is variety. The combination of wildlife, waterfalls and the many and varied traditional ceremonies can enrich our tourism calendar. Very few countries in the world can match us in this respect.
But we fall flat where promotion of our tourism potential is concerned. We need to invest money in selling our tourism attractions to the world. We also need trained personnel with the knowledge, skill and passion to promote the industry.
We also need to do much to curb poaching in our national parks and game management areas. As Zambia struggles under the burden of the world economic downturn, the sophisticated international ivory smuggling syndicates may easily lure some of our jobless citizens to make a fast buck through poaching.
The newly established Department of National Parks and Wildlife in the Ministry of Tourism and Arts must do its utmost to promote wildlife conservation, declare war on poachers and game meat dealers as well as address human-animal conflicts in a more professional manner.
It must also lead the task to develop a sustainable tourism structure that will benefit the country and do more to support local communities in game management areas and make them stakeholders in the promotion of a viable tourism sector.
It must be noted that without local communities there would be no game parks, and without wildlife there would be no safari tourism. They are two sides of the same coin which create jobs and bring a lot of money into the country.
If well planned and executed, tourism can transform our economy and way of life. Copper is a wasting asset but wildlife, natural beauty attractions and our customs and culture are sustainable investments that can last forever.
The World Wildlife Day yesterday was only reminding us that we are sitting on a pot of gold. We need to reevaluate our priorities and begin to accept that after our present difficulties, copper may not be the beginning and the end of our economic prosperity.
There are many things we can do and tourism is one of them.