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64 Travel Zambia November 2008 Inside view Some will know Chris McIntyre as author of the Bradt Travel Guide to Zambia, Zambia's first ever guidebook. Others will know him as managing director of UK- based travel company Expert Africa ( www. expertafrica. com), responsible for sending out many of the country's tourists. Either way, Chris is uniquely placed to comment on Zambia's tourism. He shared his views with Mike Unwin. Which are Zambia's most popular destinations? The main three national parks, South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi and Kafue – plus Victoria Falls – make up the great majority of our trips. ?? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Our clients always return to these places. Many like the small, friendly camps. Others are addicted to the walking safaris, where you can get some exercise while feeling that bush frisson. Do you ever send travellers to more out- of- the- way places? Yes we do – often, for example, with a private guide and 4WD. This is particularly popular with people who once lived in Zambia and can now return with children to rediscover their roots. If visitors have the budget we can fly them anywhere. However, the more esoteric destinations often raise costs, while not necessarily offering any higher quality. What about the places that don't make your brochure? Aren't you being unfair to them? We try to offer what travellers want, plus a little more to stretch their horizons. The demand for Zambia's more offbeat places is currently very small. I believe we feature more options than most, but there are plenty that we miss. Most visitors concentrate on the main parks on their first or second trips. Some subsequently venture further afield, but the proportion of these more adventurous travellers is pretty low. Do you think Zambia is exploiting its tourist potential to the full? No. There are some stunning areas that outsiders rarely see. Crucial to Zambia's reputation for quality are its guiding skills, so expanding the excellent Luangwa and Lower Zambezi guiding exams to cover all the parks would be a brilliant move. There's lot of know- how in the country's best camps that really could help some of the newcomers to raise their game. So what's the problem? Simple: access. Zambia needs to improve its transport infrastructure – from better roads to more reliable air links. Great safari camps still need reliable ways to get there, while more offbeat destinations need cheap and reliable access just to get off the ground. Even flights to South Luangwa still aren't perfect, despite the numbers of camps and lodges that rely upon them. So try getting someone to a remote destination like Lake Tanganyika. It's very difficult. Which ' new' destinations have the most potential? South Luangwa's extremities are not hard to reach, yet the camps in the extreme south are rarely busy while the old Chibembe bush camps in the far north lie unused. Nanzhila Plains, in southern Kafue, has an enthusiastic new camp for the first time in years, and reports of the game are encouraging. Mutinondo Wilderness is surprisingly close to South Luangwa by air, and is the perfect place for visitors who like hiking. Liuwa Plain is a stunning park with tremendous potential if the access issue can be cracked. How easy is it for an operator to offer new destinations? We visit places ourselves to vet them before we feature them in our brochure. So expanding our programme is simply a case of travelling around in search of the best new places. Of course, there's a quality level below which we won't work, as we know that in the long run our travellers would complain. What has changed since you started sending people to Zambia? We started around 1996, just after I wrote the first Bradt guide. Before then, it had seemed almost impossible to find good information, and very few people visited Zambia. Today things are very different, with many more visitors and endless information on the web. Zambia now features on all ' top ten' safari lists. In the camps there has been a steady move towards higher standards – of luxury, food and often, but not always, experience. What are your biggest frustrations? Airlines that aren't run in a professional way cause us the most problems. But I'd also single out camps that market themselves as ' better' than they really are as being especially annoying. I believe that well- informed honesty is always the best policy when advising someone. Do you see any market trends that will affect Zambia? In the short term, it's hard not to see the credit crunch and a looming global recession hurting visitor numbers. The strengthening of the US dollar will hit UK travellers. Everyone should buckle their seatbelts for a bumpy 2009! What is Zambia's ' next big thing'? I see Zambia as a ' classic' in safari terms, rather than having to chase the latest fads and fashions. So I hope it carries on as it is, without any ' next big thing'. betttter? Could do ' I believe that well- informed honesty is always the best policy when advising someone.'