Tourism:Key to Regional Economic Development And Integration
28 September 2000
by Tinashe Madava
Southern African Development Community (SADC) officials at World Exposition 2000 in Hanover, Germany, took the opportunity of attendance by a wide sector of the potential European market to promote the region's tourism potential.
Thousands of Europeans touring Expo, which ends this month, had an opportunity to sample what the region has to offer and SADC countries showcased their artistry and marketed their tourist destinations.
The participation of SADC at Expo was a joint exhibition with individual pavilions located around the regional body's presentation. This helped to market the region as a single tourist destination.
Last year's Southern African Investment Dialogue (SAID 99) at Victoria Falls stressed the regional nature of tourism and its importance for development. This year's meeting held in Maputo reaffirmed this priority and called for faster progress towards harmonising visa and other policies in order to encourage travel.
The concept of a single regional visa for tourists visiting southern Africa is currently being explored aimed at boosting tourist arrivals to the region.
"Zimbabwe and its neighbours have outstanding natural attractions that together make this a unique regional destination. The challenge is to work concertedly to remove the obstacles to travel within the region, so that we examine the tourism potential and share its benefits," says Herbert Nkala, chairman of the Environment and Tourism Committee of Zimbabwe's National Economic Consultative Forum.
The Southern African Initiative of German Business (also known as SAFRI) predicts the region will soon enjoy the world's strongest growth rates. SAFRI is convinced that the service sector, especially tourism, could greatly bolster the region's economies.
"If a country exports tourist services, it can make use of its natural competitiveness. In an increasingly globalised world, there are less and less immobile locational factors which cannot be brought from country A to country B where they can use B's much more favourable basic conditions for production," says Michael Blank of Africa Association, a Germany-based organisation working to improve trade relations between Germany and Africa.
He adds that since SADC countries have considerable potential for the expansion of travel and tourism activities in the wildlife and scenic aspects, the tourism industry will without doubt be one of the growth sectors.
The SAFRI report says that in 1999, the sector contributed on average 23 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the region and catered for 17 percent of employment needs in Mauritius, Namibia and Seychelles. In countries such as Lesotho, Malawi and Zambia, the travel and tourism sector contributed 5.3 percent to economic output and 5.2 percent to employment.
Some 1.6 million new jobs could be created in the travel and tourism sector in southern Africa by the year 2010, a June 1999 study by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) says.
According to the WTTC study, for SADC to become fully competitive, the region must continue moving towards liberalised markets.
As a key part of the expanding service sector, sustainably developed travel and tourism offers SADC governments the opportunity to:
"With its unique diversity of natural and cultural heritage, the countries of southern Africa have enormous strengths and with the right government action, are set to become key global tourism players with growing demand for adventure tourism, eco-tourism and independent travel," says the study.
- drive economic growth and boost job creation;
- increase export earnings and attract inward investment;
- alleviate poverty and stimulate rapid economic development in regional, rural and peripheral areas;
- tap a growing market of affluent consumers from other countries to inject hard currency;
- assist with broader economic development by using travel and tourism related infrastructure and transport networks; and
- draw on abundant natural and cultural resources in partnership with local communities and other stakeholders and improve the quality of life for all residents.
Political transformation has benefited the image of the region as a tourist destination with the development of large scale cooperative projects such as transnational wildlife reserves.
The increasing liberalisation of air transport and the development of international harbours is now allowing direct access to more destinations throughout SADC.
However, there is still need for investment in infrastructure in many areas, particularly in key countries such as Angola and Mozambique. The WTTC says that SADC should seek support from international financial organisations in developing pan-regional infrastructure projects that promote tourism. (SARDC)