Tourists or Delegates: Who Went to the UNWTO Conference?

UNWTOWhen local traders heard that the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) General Assembly would be co-hosted by Zambia and Zimbabwe, they saw it as an opening to rake in some scarce dollars like never before. But two months after the gathering, off-target complaints from uninvited traders are still being fired for the lack of business and pecuniary losses between August 24 and 29, 2013; the period of the assembly.

Ordinarily, where more than 1,500 visitors from overseas congregate, you expect sales of novelty items to soar. Sadly, that was not the case during the UNWTO conference. The traders who traveled to Livingstone from as far as Copperbelt only recorded unforeseen losses and ended up dancing to the tune of the high cost of living in the tourist capital.

One female merchant, who declined to be named, claimed that of all the stocks she went with, she only sold a fraction out of which she realized, a mere K70 ($13). When she compared that to the cost of travel, lodging and food, it was far beyond expectancy and she regretted having gone to the destination of the delegates from 155 affluent countries. In fact, the K70 was just a third of the cost of a one-way ticket from Ndola.

After suffering the same fate, many Zambians complained that the delegates shunned their goods and instead flocked to Zimbabwe. However, similar laments were echoed by their counterparts in Victoria Falls (a town in Zimbabwe).

In that confusion, there must have been a lot of uninformed enterprising, most likely, due to deficiency in the diet of semantics. What the Zambian and Zimbabwean merchants should have known is that all UNWTO conferences are attended by delegates and not by tourists.

Just that information was enough to tell a serious businessman what to expect from the visitors. Those who understood English didn’t even twitch when they heard that delegates were coming to an assembly.

Common sense must have helped them to envision a rudimentary schedule of the UNWTO delegates: Every morning they were required to be in the conference room brainstorming the agenda of their meeting. They would break off for mid-morning tea or coffee for some 15 minutes and then continue with the discussion.

At lunch time they would have a sumptuous meal at some already-arranged eatery. If during lunch break they could spare a handful of minutes, they might decide to sample what the host nation had to offer; not to promenade far from the meeting place. It is in that limited space of time that they might buy a few items as souvenirs. 

In the evening, when they were done with the day’s duties and if they were not rushing to prepare for the following day or to take an early sleep, they might again take a bite at the country’s evening delicacies. 

That is every delegate’s sketchy routine. It is different from that of a tourist who would travel with a huge purse and having all the time in the world to trying out everything that glitters. Unfortunately, our businessmen missed this point and ended up parading their precious stocks for the wrong people.

However, not all hope is lost. If there is anything the delegates liked about Zambia and Zimbabwe, they may come back so see more. Then it would be a good opportunity to do serious business with them.

In addition, the publicizing that was done globally may have flashed enough light to entice adventurous vacationers to visit some tourist attractions. These may not come in as great a number as those who went to the UNWTO but at least they will trickle in as tourists.

Amid those grumbles, Zambia’s Tourism and Arts Minister Silvia Masebo and her Zimbabwean counterpart Walter Mzembi are having their names etched on a marble plaque as organizers of the best ever UNWTO conference. So if anyone has a cause for complaint for the business opportunity missed, sorry, the reward that the two received has sealed all loopholes. It just remains up to individual traders to even out their businesses and be precautious next time.