|UNWTO 2013: Chance for SADC to shine|
|Tuesday, 15 May 2012 17:44|
By Wadzanai Mhombera
Yes, two SADC countries will co-host the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly in August 2013. Yes, Zimbabwe and Zambia are busy preparing, and yes, the spotlight will definitely be on the two, particularly the major tourist attraction that separates the two neighbours – the mighty Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Yes, Zimbabwe and Zambia will have plenty of business opportunities by hosting the mega tourism event next year. Right now I am sure one of their priorities would be to package the two countries' tourism products ahead of the UNWTO, as well as to work on developing infrastructure that will ensure a smooth and successful hosting. For instance, Zimbabwean Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Walter Mzembi recently revealed that close to US$1billion pledges have been received by the government of Zimbabwe towards the setting up of proper infrastructure in Victoria Falls ahead of the UNWTO General Assembly. This includes a convention centre that accommodates between 3 500 and 5 000 delegates, upgrading of the Victoria Falls Airport, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Airport and a shopping mall.
On the other side, Zambia is also busy harnessing resources in preparations.
BUT let us forget about the two co-hosts and consider the opportunities that UNWTO 2013 will bring or has already brought to the entire Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). Here is a chance for the region to unite and show the world that they can be host to any international event. Here is an opportunity for SADC to put their heads together and lend the necessary support to Zambia and Zimbabwe to ensure the UNWTO General Assembly is a success.
I see the UNWTO mega event as a test of how far regional integration has gone in the SADC region. SADC’s talk of regional integration must be seen for what it is – mere talk or a reality.
To this end, Zambia and Zimbabwe already have implemented the Chirundu One Stop Border Post and this has reduced the time that one waits to be cleared to enter either country. Haulage trucks that used to take 2 or 3 days to be cleared at Chirundu now take only about 2 to 3 hours!
This is the way to go for SADC - tourists and visitors don’t want to go to countries where they will experience hassles at entry points. This brings to mind the immigration departments in the SADC region – they need to upgrade their services in time for the UNWTO General Assembly in August next year.
SADC heads of state and ministers of tourism must engage and craft a tourism package that markets all the tourist attractions found in the region. This package will then be marketed aggressively ahead of the UNWTO event so that delegates would be attracted to explore tourist attractions in the region before and after the General Assembly, thereby ensuring that the region benefits immensely from hosting the UN mega event. Such a regional tourism marketing strategy will be critical in advancing regional integration among SADC member states.
The delegates to the UNWTO General Assembly in 2013 must be forced by the region to come early and stay longer. Picture this dear reader - tourism luminaries, government officials, heads of state, business people, public sector, private sector, journalists, and media houses from all the four corners of the globe will descend, not only on Zambia and Zimbabwe, but on the entire SADC family.
Must we let these high profile delegates come and go just like that without taking advantage of their visit to enhance our tourism industry and market our great tourist attractions?
The region must invest heavily in tourism infrastructure such as restaurants, hotels, lodges, night clubs, transport, and airports to ensure that delegates to the UNWTO event are not short of what to do and where to go the moment they land in the region. In 2007, SADC proposed an Infrastructure Master Plan which will guide development in key infrastructure such as road, rail and ports in the region. The infrastructure master plan was put to focus on key areas such as energy, transport, telecommunications, water infrastructure and tourism. This plan must be expedited as the region moves towards hosting the UN tourism mega event.
This can only be possible if the region unites to aggressively market its tourist attractions to the entire world. This is particularly significant as SADC clocks up 20 years this year since the signing of the SADC Treaty and Declaration. This presents an opportunity for Southern Africa to forge ahead with the region’s integration agenda. It was in August 1992 (in Windhoek, Namibia) that the Heads of State and Government signed the SADC Treaty and Declaration that effectively transformed the Southern Africa Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC) into the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
This shift from SADCC to SADC led to the restructuring and re-aligning of SADC functions based in various members states and dealing with a diverse range of development issues from health, mining, environment, trade, investment and tourism, yes tourism. This is why I feel SADC must take advantage of the staging of the UNWTO General Assembly in the region. The SADC Ministerial Taskforce on Regional Economic Integration should look at ways of benefitting the regional bloc come August 2013.
Remember it takes hundreds of years for a country to host the event for the second time, and I am sure it might take nearly the same number of years for a region to host the UNWTO General Assembly again. What this means is that the current generation(s) in SADC is unlikely to see the UN mega tourism event again after the 2013 one. This is an opportunity for the region to shine, to show the world we can do it and to prove we can rise to the occasion.
A legacy must live on long after the UNWTO General Assembly 2013 is gone. Future generations in the SADC region must be told of a successful hosting of the whole world by their forefathers in the region.
May I end by wishing the very best to the two co-hosts, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the entire SADC. Let us up the preparations as the countdown for August 2013 continues.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.