Unlocking Local Potential Through Tourism Development

A STRIKINGLY beautiful, accessible lodge in a tranquil setting right on a high bank of the Chobe River, with wonderful views across waterways and floodplains, where wildlife congregates and birding is superb where world-renowned attractions such as the Victoria Falls and Chobe National Park are a relaxed day trip away – this is dream accommodation for visitors to the eastern Zambezi Region.

Yet in a remote communal area such as Salambala Conservancy on the Botswana border, the development of a lodge means so much more. Employment and related training opportunities suddenly open up, which never existed here. Local people, such as Beauty Mbala, who might have a limited education yet has plenty of inherent capacity and great enthusiasm, can suddenly embark on a career in tourism – which Beauty would not have dreamed of when she worked at a supermarket in the regional capital Katima Mulilo. A new market also opens up for local entrepreneurs such as the vegetable farmers Weston Mwape and Priscah Matengu from the Mungweze Garden Project. Locally sourced, fresh vegetables are a boon for the lodge, while farmers are suddenly blessed with a regular patron. Similarly, craft makers have a new outlet for their products through the lodge.

The Chobe River forms the southern boundary of Salambala Conservancy, as well as the border with Chobe National Park in neighbouring Botswana. The Ngoma Border Post lies in the conservancy, and traffic to and from Botswana and Zimbabwe passes through Salambala. The world-famous Victoria Falls are less than 150 kilometres from Ngoma. Salambala is thus a gateway to world-renowned attractions.

The conservancy itself offers significant local attractions. Lake Liambezi – an ephemeral waterbody that supports a fascinating fishing industry and spectacular birdlife during times of flooding – is a unique feature. Beautiful broad-leaved woodlands, pans and floodplains create attractive landscapes, where a variety of wildlife occurs.

Little tourism development has taken place in the conservancy and the area is traversed mainly in transit. The Salambala Campsite, located near the tar road between Katima Mulilo and Ngoma, was developed to cater for camping travellers, but currently receives limited visitors. The potential for high quality fixed accommodation was identified by both the conservancy and private operators. Through the assistance of the Millennium Challenge Account Namibia, Camp Chobe was developed to capitalise on this.

Importantly, private sector operators need to engage constructively with local partners during both the development and operation of a lodge in Namibia’s communal areas. A close relationship with the conservancy ensures that a legitimate partnership exists between the local community and the lodge. This enables equitable benefit sharing, while the conservancy provides natural resource management services such as zoning agricultural activities away from the lodge site and combatting poaching. Camp Chobe has a contractual income-sharing agreement with the conservancy, which generates important funds to cover conservancy running costs such as paying game guard salaries, with additional funds being invested in community projects.

By working with a variety of producers within the conservancy, the lodge can also source wonderful local produce that adds flair to the lodge product while supporting the local economy. The lodge may need to provide initial technical support and guidance to ensure products and services have the needed quality, while local producers must ensure the reliable delivery of quality goods. Once these parameters have been met, everyone can benefit from the partnerships.

Camp Chobe has also started an education fund to support local schools as part of their broader social responsibility, yet the ripple effects of the lodge development will go further still. Visitors suddenly have an ideal base from which to explore the area, and will spend time here, rather than just passing through in transit. Additional tourism products can be developed, based on local culture, birding, fishing, wildlife and scenery, paving the way for other tourism operators in an upward spiral of development that unlocks local potential.

Source : The Namibian