Wednesday, April 15, 2009

CONSOLIDATED Tourism Investments (CTI) invests in Zambia

By Ignatius Mazeko, Times of Zambia

CONSOLIDATED Tourism Investments (CTI) appears to have placed the right foot on the right peddle with their upcoming mega investment in the tourist capital, Livingstone.

The tourism sector is now ranked among the top key sectors that are expected to spearhead Zambia’s economic turnaround.

Only formed early this year by Madison Investment Company (MIC) and two foreign investors, Bushbuck Trust and Virgin Adventures, CTI has already showed indications of emerging as a giant in the tourism sector.

The group is structured in a way that MIC has 25 per cent shares whereas Bushbuck Trust and Virgin Adventures have 37.45 per cent stakes a piece.

The three have collectively invested US$11 million to construct a four-star hotel on Mosi-oa-Tunya national park aimed at catering for the ever-increasing number of tourists visiting Livingstone.

This hotel initiative has coincidentally come at a time when Zambia National Tourism Board (ZNTB) chairman Errol Hickey is calling for more indigenous Zambians to venture into the tourism industry.

Mr Hickey said in an interview in Lusaka on Monday that there was need to have a good participation from locals and, consequently, to increase the industry’s bed capacity from the current 10,000 to 15,000 or even 20,000.

He said much as the ZNTB-spearheaded ‘Visit Zambia’ campaign’ had increased figures of foreign arrivals by 29 per cent over the past year, his main concern was local representation and bed capacity.

He said locals had a paltry 10 per cent shares in the sector compared to foreign investors who commanded the remaining 90 per cent.

The ZNTB initiated the ‘Visit Zambia’ campaign to promote Zambia to the outside world as a tourist destination, is targeted to increase tourist arrivals by 400,000 yearly, reaching the one billion mark by 2010.

CTI is just the perfect thing to arrive on the scene in the quest to realise these ambitions for Zambia’s tourism industry.

The hotel is projected to create 300 jobs to add to the 200 which the CTI group collectively employs in all its various tourism-oriented operations.

Construction work commenced in August with a ground-breaking ceremony which was followed by erection of foundation structures at all the eight base blocks on which the two-storey hotel would stand. Currently contractors are working on the central amenity blocks.

CTI board chairman Xen Vlahakis said in an interview in Lusaka that although his firm was a newly-registered Zambian company, the entity had stakes in some relatively old tourism businesses owned by the group’s other three shareholders.

The board, comprising Mr Vlahakis, Rhoydie Chisanga from MIC as director, including Zimbabweans Steve McCormick as managing director and Tony Harrison together with American Tom Ryan who was appointed director of finance, was formed in July this year.
CTI wholly owns Safari By Excellence and Kayila Lodge Game Management Area in Chiyawa while it has 50 per cent shares in Water Front Company, Zambezi Wildlife Sanctuary, also in Chiyawa, and Zambezi River Adventures.

In the Lower Zambezi, the group has 22.5 per cent stakes in the Mwambazi River Lodge.

Mr Vlahakis said the three entities that had come to form the CTI group were bringing quality to Zambia’s hospitality and tourism industry because they had a proven track record coming from a background where they had 45 internationally recognised hotels spread across South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique.

Once it becomes fully operational, the Livingstone hotel would become Zambia’s first tourism and hospitality entity to offer shares to employees who would be offered 9.9 per cent stakes.
Mr Vlahakis said the gesture was in line with the principle of empowering locals to own shares through the employee share ownership plan (ESOP).

The only fly in the ointment for the otherwise huge investment, even by regional standards, was the environmental concerns that inevitably came up, not surprisingly given the location of the hotel and perceived implications.

There were the usual fears about what would eventually become of the park and what the environmental fallout would be for the community.

According to Mr Vlahakis, however, these concerns were ably handled and fears assuaged.

‘‘An environmental impact assessment was conducted under the supervision of the Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ) and in consultation with all the key stakeholders of Livingstone and the province.

‘‘This environmental impact assessment has come with an environmental management plan (EMP) which guides what happens and what to do in each of the 14 construction phases of this hotel,’’ he said.

The EMP ensures, among other things, prohibiting a developer from cutting down trees at the construction site, how waste should be managed and the limits with the proximity to the Zambezi river front.

The board also duly went ahead to sign a tourism concession agreement with the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) in April to authorise them construct the hotel and adventure village were allocated on Mosi-oa-Tunya national park number 17.

Tourism alone contributes 23 per cent of Zambia’s gross domestic product (GDP) and there is potential that the industry would double this percentage by the end of 2010 when the five-year ‘Visit Zambia’ campaign promotion comes to an end.