ON August 24, 2012, Zambia and Zimbabwe officially launched the count-down to the co-hosting of the 20th Session of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly next year.
This means that the clock is now ticking as days are moving towards the event which would be held in Livingstone and Victoria Falls towns from August 24 to 29, 2013.
According to a joint communiqué issued by tourism ministers of the two countries last week, Zambia and Zimbabwe are expecting a maximum of 4 000 participants during the UNWTO general assembly next year.
This would comprise 1, 500 delegates from more than 180 member states, affiliate and associate members of the UNWTO, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and the general travelling public.
The two countries have so-far agreed to share the costs of co-hosting the event on a 50/50 per cent basis, which means that each country would host about 2, 000 delegates.
"We would like to assure the citizens of the two countries and the international community that we are committed to the co-hosting of a Uniquely African General Assembly in August 2013, which will leave a long term legacy for our two countries," the communiqué read in part.
In view of the above, the need to enhance infrastructure development in Livingstone has come out prominently.
Quality infrastructure such as roads, hotels, border facilities, airport infrastructure, convention centre, water reticulation, power supply, shopping malls, street lights, recreation and health facilities among others are needed to ensure a successful hosting of the general assembly.
However, most of these facilities are either in poor state or insufficient or even not there in Livingstone.
That is why the Minister of Tourism and Arts Sylvia Masebo on Saturday hosted a Tourism Investment Forum to address infrastructural needs for the Greater Livingstone.
The forum brought together stakeholders and the business community to identify projects and explore investment opportunities in the Tourist capital.
Several infrastructural projects ear-marked for development in Livingstone were showcased during the forum which attracted local residents, tourism operators, investors, civic leaders, curio traders, Livingstone City Council, street vendors, Government institutions and the business community.
Ministry of Tourism and Arts show-cased land earmarked for among others, hotel andlodge developments ranging from 50 to 400 bed capacity, conference or convention centres with at least 5,000 seating capacity and shopping arcades.
The proposed sites, which include Zambia Air-Force Chalets, Hubert Young, part of Dambwa Forests, part of Songwe, area along Livingstone-Sesheke Road and in Katombora, have a lease period of 30 years renewable on performance.
Further, Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) showcased two sites available for development in Mosi-oa-tunya National Park in Livingstone.
The sites are Songwe one and old ZAWA camp where a 100 bed capacity lodge and a 24 bed lodge were recommended for investment.
On the other hand, the Livingstone City Council provided a site behind Civic Centre for the construction of a three-star medium hotel at a cost of K35 billion.
Council acting deputy director of city planning Joseph Zulu said the hotel would add to the already existing accommodation for delegates of the UNWTO as well as regular tourists and local residents.
Mr Zulu also said the council had land for the construction of new markets, a new stadium, an intercity bus terminus, shopping mall and a conventional centre.
He said markets and other public places would be rehabilitated while new lavatories would be built in the city ahead of the UNWTO general assembly.
"We also need to rehabilitate and install street lights in 32 roads in the city at a cost of K11 billion.
Further, we need to do landscaping and manage open spaces as well as waste management in the city," Mr Zulu said.
The council also called for the installation of water points in round-abouts and islands to make the city attractive.
Some participants during the forum also urged the council to include new fire fighters on the list as the current facilities were inadequate.
During the forum, a Livingstone resident Mwape Walumba and politician Willie Nsanda also showed their available private land which is ready for investment.
Their respective pieces of land in the city is ideal for hotels, swimming pools, sports infrastructure among others.
Radisson Hotel proprietor Ody's Manidenakis , who also attended the investment forum, exchanged business cards with Mr Walumba and Mr Nsanda for a possible development of their land.
In a separate interview in Livingstone, Mr Manidenakis said he was interested in setting up a three to five start hotel in Livingstone ahead of the UNWTO general assembly,
Mr Manidenakis said once land was found, he would set up a hotel which would have about 150 rooms.
He said he was attracted to set up a hotel in the tourist capital due to increased demand for high quality accommodation facilities ahead of the general assembly.
A Lusaka based firm A+ Urban Technics Limited, which comprises architects and urban development consultants, also offered to make designs for new lavatories in Livingstone ahead of the UNWTO general assembly.
Another important infrastructure which was showcased during the forum was the current construction of a new terminal building at Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport in Livingstone.
In his presentation, National Airport Corporation Limited (NACL) Livingstone manager Joseph Mumbi said the world-class building would be completed by June 2013 ahead of the UNWTO general assembly next year.
Currently, the existing airport building has a capacity to attract 250,000 passengers per year while the new terminal building would be attracting about 700,000 passengers per year annually thereby bringing the total number of passengers to about 1, 000 per annum.
Mr Mumbi said the new terminal building, which would have two boarding gates, five club lounges, 30 retail spaces, viewing terraces, would be completed at a cost of K75 billion.
In terms of funding structure, NACL would cater for 60 per cent of the total cost while Government would provide 40 per cent.
"With increased capacity to handle more passengers and aircraft, the challenge will be to attract more passengers to utilise these premises," Mr Mumbi said.
He said in the last couple of years, the Livingstone airport infrastructure had undergone major rehabilitation works to enhance passenger and aircraft handling capacity.
The changes include the extension of the terminal building, extension of the runway, construction of the fire station, remodelling of the car park, construction of the maintenance building, construction of a 14 km perimeter fence and installation of two stand-by generator sets.
In terms of passengers handled per year, the numbers have significantly increased to 203, 803 in 2011 compared to 8, 963 recorded in the year 2000.
Meanwhile, Southern Tourism, Agriculture and Commercial Show Society (STACSS) showcased its land at Livingstone showground where infrastructure for the UNWTO general assembly could be developed.
STACSS chairperson Joseph Mumbi said an exhibition arena, a convention centre and a 200 room budget hotel could be developed within the show-ground which covers about 6.7 hectares of land.
"We are conveniently located four kilometers from the central business district as well as 900 meters from the entrance to the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park and seven kilometers from the Victoria Falls.
We want to forge a joint venture partnership with a view of developing the Livingstone Show Grounds into an exhibition centre of excellence," he said.
Southern Water and Several Company (SWASCO) managing director Alfred Masupha said about K48 billion would be required to improve water reticulation in Livingstone ahead of the UNWTO general assembly.
Mr Masupha said the company recorded about 30 to 40 per cent of water losses due to high demand for the commodity and dilapidated sewerage system.
On road network, Road Development Agency (RDA) acting regional engineer for Southern Province Muswala Kasambwe said the agency was targeting to rehabilitate a stretch of 50.7 kilometres in Livingstone at a cost of K170 billion in preparations for the UNWTO general assembly.
Mr Kasambwe noted that most of the roads in the Tourist Capital are in bad shape and hence the aim of project was to rehabilitate priority roads.
He said some roads would be upgraded from earth or gravel to bituminous level.
Mr Kasambwe said the targeted roads in the project were not part of the approved 2012 national roads budget.
"Through the re-allocation plan, K 33 billion has been set aside from the 2012 approved national road budget and therefore only K 33 billion is available to start the works this year," he said.
He said immediately when clearance of the bidding document and short listing for contractors was done by the Zambia Public Procurement Agency (ZPPA), contractors would be given a copy of bidding document for costing.
Mr Kasambwe said the next stage would be tender evaluation, awarding and signing of the contract with successful bidders.
"Also as soon as a No - Objection is received from office of the Secretary Treasury, we will now have access to the funds and proceed with implementation of the Works.
We intend to use a selective tender process as opposed to an open tender which is lengthy," he said.
ZESCO regional manager for Southern region Billy Nsontaulwa said the power utility firm was prepared to ensure that UNWTO general assembly successfully takes place with quality and reliable power supply 24 hours seven days basis.
Mr Nsontaulwa said the infrastructure projects being undertaken were on course and would be completed well ahead of the conference.
Victoria Falls power station, which is the third largest power station in Zambia, generates a maximum of 108 mega watts and it supplies power to Southern Province, Western Province and National Grid.
Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) director general Margaret Mudenda said her authority would start naming streets and numbering of houses in Livingstone to enable tourists and other guests locate various places in the city.
Ms Mudenda said the project, which would be wholly funded by ZICTA, would start once relevant authorities gave the authority a list of roads and houses whose markings were faded or not there.
She said ZICTA wanted to roll out the project in Livingstone to alleviate the problem of poor signage in the city ahead of UNWTO general assembly next year.
Ms Mudenda said ZICTA would put up permanent sign posts using materials such as cement as metals were usually vandalised.
She said the project, which was already being undertaken in Lusaka, would later spread to other parts of the country such as residential areas, central business districts and villages.
And Commerce, Trade and Industry Minister Bob Sichinga urged the various presenters during the forum to submit their projects to Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) for identification of would-be investors.
Mr Sichinga said the cheaper money was not what people borrowed in form of a loan but the one in form of equity.
"The issue of enhancing tourism infrastructure ahead of the general assembly cannot be overemphasised.Bring your projects to ZDA and will advise you and help to find would-be investors to develop Livingstone," he said.
Mr Sichinga also urged taxi drivers and other transporters to polish up their vehicles in readiness for the UNWTO general assembly.
He said the hosting of the general assembly provided an opportunity to investors to set up shopping malls, hotels, restaurants and other recreational facilities in Livingstone ahead of the tourism event.
"As we go towards hosting the UNWTO general assembly, it will be important that we use the remaining days to our advantage," he said.
Mr Sichinga said Zambia, which is surrounded by eight neighbours, was a friendly and stable country hence it was important that such attributes were showcased ahead of the general assembly.
"The country sits on all major rivers and we have 40 per cent of water in southern Africa which gives us a comparative advantage.
And Ms Masebo said Livingstone would host two more tourism Investment Forums next month at which local and foreign investors would be invited to sample various projects ahead of the UNWTO general assembly next year.
Ms Masebo said the forums were aimed at enhancing infrastructure in the city ahead of the general assembly.
"We want to see a situation where local people are engaged in various projects to create jobs for themselves," she said.
Ms Masebo also urged Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) to improve the outlook of border facilities at Victoria Falls, Kazungula and Katimamulio as well as international airports in Zambia as such facilities were a mirror of the nation as delegates arrive.
There is need for investors and other stakeholders to take keen interest in supporting various infrastructure projects in Livingstone to facilitate a successful co-hosting of the UNWTO general assembly.
As Ms Masebo recently officially launched the 365 days count-down to next year's UNWTO world tourism summit, it is incumbent upon every Livingstone residents and other citizens of Zambia to start doing something that will add value to the event.