In August this year, Zambia and neighboring Zimbabwe will co-host the 20th United Nations World Tourism Organization General Assembly. Lying on either side of one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the towns of Livingstone (on the Zambian side) and Victoria Falls (on the Zimbabwean side) will share the hosting responsibilities.

Over a 5 day period between the 25th and 29th of August, aside from the official meetings, visiting delegates will be treated to some of Zambia’s finest tourism offerings, with a trip to the majestic Victoria Falls, a unique walking lion safari, game viewing in Musi-ao-tunya National Park, bungee jumping and local cultural performances all forming part of the programme.

Zimbabwe and Zambia won the bid to host this prestigious event at last year’s 19th Assembly in South Korea. With tourism seen as a key sector for boosting development, the upcoming General Assembly will be an important step in helping Zambia to make the most of its rich natural and cultural endowments and see its burgeoning tourism flourish for the benefit of the entire nation. While tourism represents over 25% of GDP in some developing countries, Zambia, despite its incredible potential, lacks infrastructure and effective marketing policies is currently a long way behind with tourism revenue at about 2.5% of GDP. Even in economically troubled Zimbabwe tourism accounts for about 8.5% of GDP.

The UNWTO General Assembly aims to maximize tourism’s socio-economic contribution while minimizing its possible negative impacts, and is committed to promoting tourism as an instrument in achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), geared towards reducing poverty and fostering sustainable development.

According to their mandate, the UNWTO is also committed to “knowledge creation and exchange, human resources development and the promotion of excellence in areas such as policy and planning, statistics and market trends, marketing and promotion, product development and risk and crisis management”, all of which are clearly beneficial to boosting Zambian tourism.

Before the event has even got under way, the Zambian government has ensured that road infrastructure, airport and accommodation facilities in and around Livingstone are all improved to help things run as smoothly as possible when the delegates arrive. Looking beyond the Assembly, a research report by the Policy Monitoring and Research Centre in May this year stated that increased government focus on tourism infrastructure and marketing could help the country’s tourism sector reach the same kind of percentage of GDP as Zimbabwe, and that this was especially important in current times of lower prices for copper and other local minerals.

Zambia certainly has a wealth of riches to offer potential tourists. Aside from the natural and cultural wonders, Lusaka is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa. The UNWTO General Assembly should help the Zambian tourism sector to grow at a similar rate, and see Zambia become one of Africa’s most popular and best-developed tourism destinations.