The World Bank has availed US$700 000 towards the creation of a single visa system among Sadc member states, with Zimbabwe and Zambia set to host the pilot project.
Sadc wants to implement a single visa system (univisa) to allow easy movement of tourists and business persons as a way to promote intra-regional trade.
The World Bank project focuses on the harmonisation of visa requirements for the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (Kaza) countries, high-level consultation events, modernisation and advocacy events for visa facilitation.
Kaza has five countries -- Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Angola.
The bank is providing support for the progressive implementation of visa facilitation activities for the TFCA and Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa (Retosa) leading to the ultimate goal of implementing a Sadc univisa initiative.
Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Walter Mzembi said the upcoming Sadc summit to be hosted in Zimbabwe in August would deliberate on the modalities of setting up a functional univisa regime.
"It will be a topical issue at the Sadc summit next month -- in fact, one of the regional integration showcases for the conference. We are on course [with implementing the project] and have been bailed out by the World Bank at the initial stages," said Mzembi.
The funding will also facilitate high-level consultation between partner countries including representation at the highest level from designing the protocol and legislative amendments that will facilitate the implementation of the univisa.
The approach towards removing barriers for visa simplification and streamlining of immigration processes included interventions in harmonisation of visa requirements for Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Angola.
The project also entails reviewing the existing visa situation among the partner countries, identifying immigration and customs regulations of the countries that would require harmonisation in order to facilitate implementation of the Kaza univisa.
Information availed by the bank shows that there are basically four stages involved in the implementation of the project, with the first stage involving Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The second stage incorporates all five Kaza countries to include Angola, Botswana and Namibia.
The third stage will involve setting up a pilot project that covers Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland as pilot Sadc countries before the final stage that will implement a univisa for all Sadc member states.
The bank notes that although most Sadc member states have liberalised some aspects of tourism services already under the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services, such as hotel services, there are other aspects that have not been liberalised.
For example, the industry relies upon various transport services to deliver clients while immigration and entry/exit control regulations have a direct influence on the supply of international tourism services.
Tourism competitiveness in the region cannot be realised without ease of cross border access, the bank notes.
The envisaged benefits of a univisa, modelled more or less along the lines of Europe's Schengen visa system, include increased competitiveness of the Sadc region and an increase in the efficiency and transparency of immigration procedures for tourism.
The univisa regime will also lead to the elimination of administrative impediments such as time delays and improved ease for the issuing of visas and distribution of visa revenues to the pilot countries.
Cross border travel will become easier, less time consuming and bureaucratic while encouraged multi-country visits and longer stays will lead to increased economic performance of the tourism sector resulting in increased welfare and increased employment.