Mega global tourism conference - As preparations for the August 2013 United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly intensify, various stakeholders have continued to engage Government regarding the event.
Ministers, permanent secretaries and other senior Government officials have lately been engaging different players from both the public and private sector to prepare for the mega global tourism conference.
Recently, Tourism and Arts Minister Sylvia Masebo and his Transport, Works, Supply and Communication counterpart Christopher Yaluma met representatives of Kenyan Airways and Emirates.
The two international airlines are interested in ferrying guests from abroad directly to Livingstone during the UNWTO General Assembly.
A fortnight ago, Ms Masebo and Mr Yaluma met representatives of mobile service providers in Zambia to get acquainted with their preparations for the event.
The three mobile service providers, which the two Cabinet ministers met last week, are Zamtel, Airtel Zambia and MTN.
According to Ms Masebo, delegates to the UNWTO General Assembly are expected to have quality mobile phone services and download their conference materials from reliable and fast internet.
'All accommodation facilities in Livingstone should have a fast broadband internet in their rooms and in public places.
This means that optic fibre should be connected to enlisted hotels and lodges for the event. We want priorities to be given to the official venues and other public places in Livingstone including Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport. WIFI internet facilities should be made available in common facilities used by delegates at all times,' Ms Masebo said.
Ms Masebo also told the mobile service providers that Livingstone had a weak signal in terms of mobile connections and residents usually find themselves roaming on neighbouring networks at added costs.
'The river front accommodation facilities experience frequent network disruptions and are forced to roam from powerful mobile networks in neighbouring countries.
Why should I become an international traveller when I am in Livingstone? The general network here is very poor and this issue is critical to the co-hosting of the UNWTO conference,' Ms Masebo said.
She also said delegates to the UNWTO conference would require reasonably priced phone handsets, sim cards and roaming abilities to facilitate co-hosting of the event by the two countries. You may wish to consider hiring handsets.
'These are some of the pertinent issues affecting the tourism industry. Ensure that Zambia does not disrupt delegates in terms of connectivity,' Ms Masebo said.
In response, the three mobile phone service providers pledged to offer world-class mobile phone and internet services during the August 2013 General Assembly.
Zamtel chief executive officer Mupanga Mwanakatwe said his company had diverted some of the new equipment and the optic fibre network to Livingstone to provide world-class mobile phone and internet services to UNWTO delegates.
Mr Mwanakatwe said some of Zamtel's 3G network equipment, which was planned for rolling out in other parts of Zambia, had been reallocated to Livingstone to support Government efforts to host the UNWTO conference.
'As Zamtel, we are not part of the UNWTO organising committee but we took our own initiative to supplement Government efforts in ensuring that the conference is held successfully.
We can bring optic fibre network to hotels and these entities can engage us so that we connect them on commercial basis,' he said.
Zamtel chief technical officer Sydney Mupeta said his firm was expanding and upgrading both mobile and fixed networks in Livingstone so that it could cover the city and other identified areas of interest.
Mr Mupenta said looking at the mobile network currently, Zamtel had 11 2G sites which were low capacity sites and these sites would be swapped with high capacity sites which would provide 3G.
We are also adding 10 more sites and we will have 21 sites in total. As a result of 21 sites, it would be blanket coverage of 3G and major activity centres we identified where we will have very good 3G network,' he said.
The areas to be covered under 3G network would be Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport, Royal Livingstone Hotel, Zambezi Sun Hotel, Chief Mukuni's place, Chrismar Hotel, Protea Hotel, Courtyard Hotel, David Livingstone Spar and Safari Lodge, Fairmount Hotel as well as the Livingstone town centre and all roads in the city.
And Mr Mupeta said Livingstone was expected to be the first town in Zambia to have 4G advanced network if Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) grants Zamtel a licence.
'Our intention is to provide blank coverage for 3G and these sites will be able to provide LTE which is 4G, the next generation of advanced and fast network after 3G provided that ZICTA gives us a licence.
'We asked ZICTA for frequency bands to be utilised for 4G and we are waiting for a response,' Mr Mupeta said.
Airtel Zambia zonal business manager Wyson Lungu said his firm wanted to make sure that it offered world class mobile phone services and memorable data experience.
Mr Lungu said Airtel Zambia was currently undertaking works to increase network capacity to operate at 100 per cent and even do better.
'We have put additional sites to deal with the issue of roaming. As Airtel Zambia, we already have 21 sites in Livingstone and 80 of these sites are on 3G and we are ahead of the curve to offer high speed and better downloading conference materials at any time.
We want to partner with local hotels and businesses to extend services, especially to areas with low signal to improve coverage,' he said.
Mr Lungu said Airtel Zambia had 144 sites in Southern Province and wanted all delegates and visitors across the province to have great experience on its network.
'We are committed to ensuring that the UNWTO is a success. We want to use this event to highlight the latest technology we have as a country and also bring consolidated partnerships as a telecom industry and move forward to ensure people have a good experience,' he said.
MTN acting service centre controller Masautso Kangwa said his firm would provide reliable data and mobile network services during the UNWTO General Assembly.
'As MTN, we will try to provide reliable data and mobile network services but I will get more details from Lusaka to make a more concrete commitments,' Mr Kangwa said.
Speaking at the same function, Mr Yaluma pledged to give his support to Zamtel and the two other service providers.
'You have raised the concern 4G network and we need to advance technology so that people will come to conference will enjoy good high class services.
ZICTA cannot stand in your way and I will ensure that the authority gives you the licence as soon as possible,' Mr Yaluma said.
It is only hoped that these promised world-class mobile and internet services would come into fruition in Livingstone before the UNWTO General Assembly.
By Brian Hatyoka
The Times of Zambia/05/03/2013