Over half a century after independence, Zambia continues to find ways to reinvent itself. This vast landlocked country that stretches across south-central Africa is positioning itself as a premier business and tourism destination.
If Zambia is known for the Victoria Falls, then Lusaka – the capital city of Zambia – is known for its fast and changing urban landscape.
In just a few years, Lusaka has started to resemble a giant construction site of roads, bridges, and walkways. The quiet leafy streets, a legacy owed to the 1950’s master plan of creating a “Garden City”, is now rapidly replaced with bulldozers, tar, and wide streets laced all across the city.
Turning Lusaka Into A Regional Hub
This growth spurt is evident in a bevy of activities, particularly in the hospitality sector, as well as the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) sector. In the last two years, three major hotels opened their doors, and conferencing activity is also on the rise.
Most significantly is perhaps the upgrade of the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, built at an estimated cost of almost half a billion dollar. It is set to open within the next 16 months, setting itself an ambitious plan to become the regional travel and business hub in Africa.
“The new and upgraded facilities are only the beginning of the plans we have in store regarding the creation of an aerotropolis, and turning Lusaka into a regional hub,” says Zambia Airports communications and marketing manager Mweembe Sikaulu.
With an increase in travellers comes the need for a vibrant city experience. More Asian, African, Western, and Zambian traditional-food restaurants are popping up all over the city, with some locations hidden in the quaint neighbourhoods of Lusaka, or in the mega malls.
Hotels Re-Inventing Themselves
The hotels, long held as the place to get good food in Lusaka, are now having to rethink ways to get people back into their establishments.
The Southern Sun Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in Zambia, established before independence in 1952, so, it has seen the troughs and peaks of the city, and has weathered the economy to remain one of the most recognised hotels in the industry. At the moment, the hotel is undergoing a massive refurbishment.
“We have positioned ourselves as a quality hotel where the theme of travel and flexibility is held high, and we create a home for guests who are always on the go,” explains Southern Sun Ridgeway general manager, Paul Norman.
The South African Protea Hotels, in the Marriot chain, are dotted all around the country, and they understand the need to maintain a strong presence that assures guests that they are here to stay, and are ready to adapt to the changes. They also have plans to build and operate a hotel and conference centre just outside of Lusaka.
Mark O’Donnell, chairman of Union Gold, owners of the Protea Hotels by Marriott franchise in Zambia, says, “The Zambian tourism market has grown from the first time we invested in the Protea Hotels by Marriott franchise. The journey was not easy, but our desire to support local businesses through investing in accommodation was the driving force behind our success.”
The ease of day-to-day business forms part of this ambition to be the top desired MICE and entertainment destination for Lusaka, servicing a cosmopolitan population transiting in and out of the country.
Stimulating The Economy
Firms such as HLB Reliance Zambia, a network of accounting firms and business advisers, have been operating in 130 countries for over 40 years, and are still around. Business activity and investment, though not as robust as it was 10 years ago, still warrants high-level investment and financial advisory interest.
The idea of the “experiential” has permeated, not just with technology and service delivery, but also through high-level lifestyle events and festivals.
Some of these events are run by local Zambian companies looking to stimulate and contribute to the economy. These small and medium enterprises range from tech- and business-accelerator hubs to young millennials.
Among the tech hubs is BongoHive Zambia – whose work is so impressive, they have earned visits from the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry.
Among the millennials is PR Girl Media – who has set up luxury lifestyle brands that are introducing local entertainment events such as Lusaka July – a Zambian version of the Durban July – that have drawn some of the most popular celebrities and high-earning Zambians.
First National Bank (FNB) is keenly aware of this SME growth, and is tapping into these trends and creating savvy products to match the needs of these population groups shaping the city.
“Although the economic outlook has been challenging, the resilience is quite robust, and there are several sectors in which there could be commercial opportunities, such as extractive metals, technology, construction, manufacturing and the environment,” says Kapumpe Kaunda, head of FNB CIB Zambia.
Not far behind is Continuum, jostling its way into the vibrant insurance market, that has seen positive growth in the market in the last ten years. The more business opportunities grow in the capital, the more people need to protect their investments.
Where to stay
Southern Sun Ridgeway: situated in one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Zambia that has become one of the most sought-after venues for MICE activities in Lusaka.
Protea Hotel by Marriot: they own and operate eight hotels in Zambia with a total of 612 rooms.
Zambezi Grande Private Game Lodge: an unfenced 10-chalet private game lodge situated on the prime Zambezi river front.
Not only does it provide one of the most luxurious game and wildlife experiences, but it also invests in the community through various initiatives.
One of these initiatives is “Pack for a Purpose”, where travellers can take supplies for projects that the lodge is involved in, such as education, health, and conservation.
Chiawa Safaris: guests have the choice of day and night (with red filtered spotlights) 4×4 game drives, walks, canoeing, boat cruises, and catch-and-release angling – all in the company of its “Best in Africa” guides.
The currency is the Zambian kwacha. Visa, Mastercard, and most international credit/debit cards are accepted. Most people can get a visa on arrival, but check the requirements before travel.
Animals in the Lower Zambezi are wild, so be careful not to approach. Make sure you are always accompanied by staff or guards.
SAA flies to Lusaka daily from Johannesburg. Book your tickets today!
Words by Samba Yonga