Protea Hotels, a mass-market operator by any definition of tourism you may choose to use, wants a slice of near-pristine wilderness along the banks of the Zambezi River. Its Zambian subsidiary is proposing a 144-bed hotel and conference centre on a prime site in the Chiawa Game Management Area. The concession is adjacent to the Lower Zambezi National Park (LZNP), and the chosen site is right across the river from Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe.
For those that don’t know the region, it is one of the continent’s most incredible tracts of wilderness and time here is about great ‘low volume/high value’ safari experiences. Both parks have exciting game and bird viewing, the scenery is simply awesome and this stretch of the Zambezi, wide and lazy as it chugs across a lower-lying region, is a delightfully tranquil stretch of water to be drifting on. I guess this is why Mana Pools also happens to be a natural World Heritage Site.
The Zambian side already has a number of lodges and camps, and when measured by size, design and operation criteria, all fall into the safari camp or ecotourism category. In contrast, the proposed hotel will have an annual capacity of over 52 000 bed-nights with indications that an extra 25 000 visitors could be attracted to the region. This gives it by far and away the largest development and operational footprint, and if erected, will in all likelihood scupper the chances of incorporating the LZNP into a joint heritage site with Mana Pools.
The words that immediately come to mind are inappropriate, intrusive and quite frankly, inconsiderate. Sure, Protea may be one of Africa’s largest hotel chains, and they certainly do offer good hotel experiences, but this does not necessarily qualify them as a successful ecotourism operator in highly sensitive conservation areas. If in doubt, take a look at the size and design of this hotel, and then have a look at all their other properties across the continent. And if still in doubt, try and find anything relating to conservation and environmental policies or achievements on their websites.
This is about environmental sustainability and minimizing the impacts, not building volume to ensure bottom-line financial sustainability. While Protea has every right to develop its products, they should stick to building their large concrete mass-market structures in cities and towns, or at the very least, outside of national parks, reserves and other wilderness areas.
Government should give them three options: downsize to build and operate within the existing parameters, choose an alternative site outside of the wilderness area, or get out of there!
To add your voice of disapproval go to: www.ipetitions.com/petition/save-the-lznp/ or the Save Mana Pools Facebook site. You can also write directly to: The Manager, Inspectorate, Environmental Council of Zambia email@example.com or Protea Hotel Director Adam Leithbridge at firstname.lastname@example.org
A full copy of the Environmental Impact Statement is available on hrrp://mailhost.necz.org.zm/news/comments/eis-reports/Lower-Zambezi-Lodge.html