New Era (Windhoek)

26 April 2006

Southern Africa: Tourism in SADC - Retosa

Southern African Development Community (SADC) does not only recognise the tourism sector as having the potential as a vehicle of future economic growth, but also as a tool towards poverty eradication in the region.

SADC's blueprint for development over the next 15 years clearly recognises these facts. Both the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) and the Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ (SIPO) are cognisant of this fact. This is an organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.

The RISDP goal is "to use Tourism as a vehicle for achieving sustainable socio-economic development, poverty alleviation and as a key incentive for the conservation and utilisation of the region's natural resources". On the other hand the SIPO intends "to improve the standards of safety and security for tourists in the territories of Member States "

The potential of the tourism sector is not over-rated given its growth in the last few years. According to the Regional Tourism Organi-sation of Southern Africa (RETOSA), the industry has "contributed US$6.7 billion to the region's economy in 2004 and created 1.5 million jobs and it is projected that in 2005 there will be US$6.9 billion contribution to the economy and 1.6 million jobs". RETOSA further reveals: "tourist arrivals in 2004 increased over 2003 by over 6.5 percent and are expected to increase by 7 percent in 2005. Arrivals for 2004 stood at 15.3 million for the region".

RETOSA, which operates on subsidiary basis with SADC, is funded 40 percent by SADC member states, while the rest of the funding is sourced from the private sector and the international cooperating partners.

Though Africa as a region experienced some remarkable growth estimated at 10 percent last year, it is still insignificant in global terms. In that period, for instance, Sub-Saharan Africa only accounted for 2.3 percent of the global tourism share market, according to the United Nations World Tourism Orga-nisation (UNWTO). This is despite the fact that the Sub-Saharan region perhaps offers the most diverse tourist attractions.

The SADC region has been gradually increasing its share of the global market in the past few years - from 2001 to 2004 it grew from 1.5 percent to 1.8 percent. The optimistic acting Executive Director of RETOSA, Fran-cis Mfune noted, "we intend to increase SADC's share of global market to 3 percent by 2010 as a result of a number of initiatives currently being undertaken."

RETOSA's efforts which are always in cooperation with member states (Tourism Boards and Ministries of Tourism and the private sector in Tourism) appear to have slowly but surely been paying dividends. Three of SADC member states registered a stronger growth last year. Mozambique recorded a remarkable increase of plus 37 percent in the period from January to September last year, while South Africa's arrivals grew by plus 11 percent from January to August. Mauritius also posted a healthy growth of plus six percent. All these figures are above the WTO long-term average growth rate of 4.1 percent.

On the whole, however, international tourism has experienced a major boost in 2005 (despite terrorist attacks and natural disasters in the form of tsunamis and hurricanes), recording in excess of 800 million arrivals "for the first time ever", according to the United Nations specia-lised agency, the WTO.

Obviously, the tourism sector has undoubtedly not only had the potential to generate wealth but also to play a major role in regional integration. And SADC can ill-afford not to increase its share of this vast growth market, simply because the region offers the tourist unparalleled diversity and variety. The region has the competitive edge of affordability, diversity and big game.

As the RETOSA's teaser aptly notes: "Southern Africa is exciting! And Southern Africa offers the best adventure one can get from the snow-caped peak of Kilimanjaro, to beaches of Mauritius and coral reefs of the eastern sea-board Okavango Delta - the jewel of Africa, or the grand mountains of Lesotho, the unparalleled Victoria Falls shared by Zambia and Zimbabwe."

The teaser is just the teaser. It is merely meant to whet one's appetite. In reality, however, the SADC region has much, much more to offer. The diversity of adventures is unimaginable! The region's mouth-watering tourist menu includes wildlife and fauna, historical/archaeological sites, cultural and sporting activities.

Wildlife and Fauna (Natural Heritage)

The region's major draw card has perhaps been its big game. The big five are found here - buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino. It is home of the largest and most spectacular wildlife on the planet. It boasts the largest concentration of elephants in the world - there are more than 300 000 of them. The region's vast national parks and transfrontier national parks and reserves also boast exotic animals such as giraffes, hippos, wild dogs, gemsbok, mountain gorillas and hundreds of others. There are also exciting natural wonders that are natural habitat to this wildlife and other exotic sea creatures among them, and these include the following:

Indian Ocean

Coral Reefs

The region's exotic coral reefs of the southern Indian Ocean can be accessed through five of SADC's countries of Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar and Mauritius.

Mount Kilimanjaro

It is Africa's highest mountain and is located 330 km south of the equator in northern Tanzania. It is always covered by snow and ice and is surrounded by wildlife parks.

Lake Malawi

The lake is the most southerly of the great African Rift Valley lakes. Lake Malawi has more species of fish than any other lake in the world, most of them unique to the lake, making it a popular destination for fishing. Its waters are fresh.

The Namib Desert

It covers 270 000 square km, stretching from the north of Namibia, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on west, to the south. It has a harsh climate, frequently characte-rised by mists and fog.

The Okavango Delta

It starts from the highlands of central Angola ultimately emptying into the edge of the Kalahari Desert in northern Botswana, where it forms the world's largest inland delta. This world heritage site is home to most big game as well as to more than 350 species of birds.

The Victoria Falls

Named after the British royalty by missionary/explorer David Livingstone, Victoria Falls is the world's largest sheet of falling water, with 546 million cubic metres plummeting over the edge every minute, which can be seen and heard from kilometres away. Hence, the name "Mosi oa thunya" (the smoke that thunders), as it is known among the locals.

The Serengeti

Tanzania's biggest national park covers an area of 30 000 square km. The Serengeti has one of the oldest ecosystems on Earth, which has barely changed in the past million years. The climate, vegetation and fauna all remain untouched by human intervention, providing some of the best game viewing in the world.

The region's rich historical and archaeological sites have been a magnate for casual tourists and scholars alike, and they include: the pre-historic rock art found all over the region, the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, the Ol-duvai Gorge in Tanzania, the Sterkopfontein in South Africa, the Zanzibar Stone Town, and the Robben Island off-coast of Cape Town.

The SADC region also boasts a rich cultural heritage, which is perhaps not as well known outside the region as the above-mentioned categories. The regional cultural activities can be easily sold as part of the natural and archaeological/historical packages or vice versa. For instance, those book bugs who annually patronise the Zimbabwe International Book Fair will do with a little convincing to include a dash to the Victoria Falls or the Chobe National Park in their package. Or those artistic bohemians who attend the Grahamstown Arts Festival can be encouraged to sample the corals of the eastern seaboard. Similarly, visitors to the Chobe National Park in Botswana or the Kafue National Park in Zambia can be easily sold to the idea of witnessing the Litunga of the Lozis' colourful Kuomboka Ceremony when the King immigrates to his summer palace along the Zambezi River. Or the visitors to Namibia can be interested to spectacle the annual Herero commemoration at their traditional town of Okahandja. Surely, the visitors to South Africa's famous Kruger National Park or Durban can be enticed to visit the King Mswati's reed dance in Swaziland. The options are unlimited.

For music and art lovers, the now moribund SADC Music Festival and the SADC Visual Arts Festival were a good start, which can be revived. After all, there is a SADC calendar date for that - October 14 is SADC Creators and Performers Day.

On the sporting front, the region is gradually catching up. The region has a vast potential to develop other non-traditional sporting codes that are likely to draw tourists, and these could include white water rafting, horse racing, fishing competitions, and off-road motor vehicle racing such as the annual Desert Race in Botswana. In regard to football, the region has made headway. Not only has the region been able to host the regional competition regularly - the Council of Southern African Football Association (Cosafa) Cup annually, but also South Africa is set to be the first African country to host the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup.

And the world cup spectacular has raised excitement in the region. Member countries regard the hosting by South Africa as a joint regional undertaking.

RETOSA's approach to the impending world cup is to develop "a promotion programme that will ensure the spread of the economic benefits of the event to all SADC member states".

RETOSA is currently reviewing, as part of the RISDP/SIPO, the sector's capacity "to develop, promote and market the region as a single but multifaceted tourism destination; and to improve the quality, competitiveness and standards of service."

One of RETOSA's ambitious projects is the possible introduction of the UNIVISA system in SADC, which seeks to "facilitate the easy movement of international tourists in the region in order to increase the market share and revenue of the region in world tourism on the basis of arrangements to be negotiated and agreed".

"This will be a common VISA system that will apply to non-SADC international tourists travelling to and within the region and encourage multi-destination travel in the region. On the other hand the VISA exemption system will apply to intra-regional SADC nationals travelling within the region in order to facilitate their smooth entry to and within the SADC member states," noted Mfune.

On the status of process, Mfune disclosed: "we have completed country visits where we consulted with stakeholders, particularly the departments of customs, immigration, home affairs (security), and tourism. The consultations have been completed and now a stakeholders' meeting scheduled for May 17-18 in Swaziland will consider the implementation proposal, which will be presented to the Integrated Committee of Ministers and eventually to the SADC Council of Ministers in August for consideration."

Tourism Investment in SADC

The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) has developed a Tourism Action Plan, which was endorsed by the World Tourism Organization (WTO) commission for Africa in May 2004 and approved by the African Union in July 2004.

Tourism investment promotion for infrastructure and products has been identified as a strategic objective of the Tourism Action Plan and a priority intervention area in the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) of SADC.

One of the current constraints for tourism growth in the SADC region is a lack of investment, or the lacklustre stance of it, which can partly be ascribed to the fact that the international investment community is unaware of the potential and investment opportunities in the region.

In February 2005, RETOSA, NEPAD and the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) collaborated to undertake a study to:

- Understand the current investment conditions in the region;

- Identify critical areas of intervention; and

- Provide strategic guidance to SADC countries on stimulation and promotion of investment in tourism.

The aim of the study was to produce guidelines for the stimulation of tourism investment in the SADC region, which can be actioned at the regional level, and, if successful, replicated in other regions of Africa under NEPAD.

The final report from the study is a document that summarises the Guidelines for the Promotion of Tourism Investment in the region. The report is at present at the stage of finalisation as a public document expected to come out by mid May 2006. A third and important phase of the process will comprise the implementation of the promotion of investment in SADC from 2006/2007 and beyond.

Other opportunities offered by the tourism sector include the development of the intra-SADC tourism, private sector participation particularly in the development of the spatial corridors. The tourism sector appears to offer more opportunities to drive the region's growth, and is destined to play a catalytic role in the regional integration process.

"The initiatives which tourism, through public and private sector partnerships, is implementing are with the view to increasing the global tourism share from 1,8% in 2004 to 3% by 2010. When achieved this will be responsible for 2,3 million jobs; US$13 billion tourism receipts and contribute to between 8 and 10 percent of the region's Gross Domestic Product (GDP)," Mfune concludes.

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