A Story of Urban Renewal – The Rebirth of Livingstone

23 Aug 2013

image KANNI WIGNARAJA, UN AND UNDP REPRESENTATIVE TO ZAMBIA

The excitement of the UNWTO event is ephemeral, a fleeting moment that will come and go in a blink of an eye. But the renewal of Livingston as Zambia’s tourism capital will remain with us. This is often the longer-term value of such occasions, as it provides the host with an energy and opportunity to invest in the much needed urban renewal that a middle income country must strive for, even amidst a plethora of development challenges.

It is a part of an uneven growth that all parts of the world experience as they go through spurts of reform and rejuvenation. The story of the city of Livingston is charged with history – a story of exploration, discovery, natural magnificence and mystery.

This is its past, and one we must honor and project well into the future. For too long this adventure capital has been a quiet forgotten backwater, with little new investments in the past twenty years to allow it to grow as a ‘living’ city and not just a forgotten memorial to the past. Nature has been bountiful and the ‘Smoke that Thunders’ lives on in all its glorious seasonal hues, but it also takes proactive and positive human action to preserve this bounty and to grow a world-class tourism capital around it that respects and conserves the natural splendor that is Mosi-O-Tunya.

I visited Livingstone in 1991. And I returned in 2010. Little had changed, with the exception of a handful of luxury hotels and a few more lodges along the way. But infant industry had collapsed and the urban vision and energy that drives economic prosperity and modernization had ebbed. And therein was the stalemate, until the pitch for co-hosting the UN WTO event came along.

I returned to Livingston in July 2013, and this time one could feel the excited pulse of a city waking up from a deep slumber. The past months of development activity in and around the city promise a re-awakening of the heartbeat of Zambia’s tourism industry, turning that over-used term ‘potential’ into real urban rebirth. One can see and experience the new infrastructure investments.

The streets are getting paved and the all-too-familiar road ‘waves’ and pot holes are gone (we hope for a long while to come); the new airport is a modern construction; the cafes, shops and gardens have been given a facelift; street lights and signage (albeit some quite curious) have arrived; safety standards are being instituted; trees are being planted and artistic and cultural enterprises encouraged to join the show.

All of this introduces better business opportunities and jobs for domestic industries that can compete in a vibrant market and provide a high standard of products and services to a more discerning clientele, both domestic and foreign.

Tourism is clearly a sector that will give meaning to another over-used term – diversification. This story of renewal will truly diversify the resource base and earnings for Zambia. It is not about potential, it is about the here and now. According to the 2011 National Economic Report, the tourism sector registered a growth of 9.6% in 2010 and 7% in 2011.

However, it is from a small base, and the industry’s contribution to real GDP was only 0.2% in both 2010 and 2011. The number of international tourist arrivals into Zambia remains a fraction of what is possible.

The figures are even smaller in terms of domestic tourism. This is where the true results of such a renewal must show – in attracting larger numbers of visitors from both outside and inside, and having them return.

Go see the transformed Livingston, and be a part of its next chapter. It is well worth a visit, and visiting often.