Growing business interest of some major Indian corporate conglomerates is pushing MICE numbers at an impressive rate, says Felix Chaila, CEO, Zambia Tourism Agency. Calling Zambia an unspoiled destination, speaking at the road-show held recently in the capital, he expressed hope of garnering a larger share of Indian outbound in coming months. An excerpt of the interview:
What do you make of the Indian market? What are your initial readings?
It is true that we are new in the Indian market and most of our foray, as of now, is explorative. This road-show marks the beginning of our seriousness. In the past two years, we gathered feedback from the market understanding the constraints for Indians to come to Zambia. Scare of yellow fever, issues related to visa processing. As we come to this road-show, in the last two years we have dealt with the issue of yellow fever certificate requirement by South Africa. It is no longer required as there is no yellow fever.
We have made visa process simpler by introducing e-visa effective from 14th October last year. We want to emphasize that keeping in mind that there are a large number of family travelers to Zambia, children under the age of sixteen have been exempted from requiring a visa.
What have been the latest Indian outbound numbers?
In 2014, we had close to twenty-five thousand tourists. It may appear to be a small number, but Zambia is a fresh destination, and we have only recently come to the Indian market. We are still registering over thirty percent year-on-year growth from Indian market. India is the fastest growing source market for Zambia in Asia.
Is Indian outbound higher than Chinese?
Chinese inbound has higher figure, although it has slowed down in the recent past. India is way ahead of China in terms of growth late. Zambia is fast emerging as a strong business destination with some key investments by Indian companies. Apart from facilities developed by Tata and Airtel, Indians have a considerable presence in the mining sector. So, there is quite a lot of traffic.
How is the leisure segment shaping up?
We are also witnessing a growing trend of leisure travelers visiting, especially, Livingstone. Therefore, Victoria Falls, safari and adventure are pulling Indian outbound.
What about the MICE segment? Are you going to roll out any special programs?
To better tap the MICE segment, we are going to hard-sell incentive programs. We understand that India has a large number of corporate travelers. Livingstone is a perfect destination for such a push. It has all the ready facilities. We also have a number of adventure sport options and white-water rafting to make it a perfect getaway. Basically, we are trying hard to better facilitate interaction between the private sectors of two countries; this is the largest contingent of representation we have ever had. We have had some very fruitful interaction with the agent community in Mumbai, too. We have even had an enquiry on Bollywood movie shooting. So, there are tremendous possibilities here for us.
In all fairness, these attempts will only yield better results if there is better air-connectivity? What is your take?
It is true that we are flying one –stop, but we have connectivity through key airlines out of, both, Delhi and Mumbai; Emirates flies from Bengaluru. We have Kenya Airways, Rwanda-air and Ethiopian Airlines as well. It is also at a very advanced stage of creation of our own national airlines.
Most of your neighbouring countries have similar offerings. How do you position yourself different? What is your unique selling proposition?
The Victoria Falls. There is only one of it in the world and it is in Zambia. Every citizen in the world must see it once. In terms of cultural richness, we are a nation of 73 tribes living in harmony. This diversity lends us ample cultural heritage. As a nation, we are very friendly and welcoming. We have a high variety of flora and fauna. Zambia happens to host the highest concentration of Hippopotamus in the world. It is a place to witness nature in its truest form. It is not commercialized and, therefore, unspoiled.