By Justin Mahlahla
Africa should see the future. Africa should see beyond 2013 and beyond. Africa should seize the moment and make an impression. A lasting one. There is no better way to make the future happen than to prepare for it. And the time for Africa to act is NOW.
The hosting of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation 2013 General Assembly next year in Victoria Falls is no mean feat. It requires stakeholders, policy-makers, nations, governments, non-governmental organisations, tourism groupings - in fact, everyone – to come together and unite to make 2013 a memorable event.
One of the major areas of concern as the continent prepares to host the world is the urgent need to introduce a uni-visa for the region, if not the whole continent. A statement on the Regional Tourism Organization of Southern Africa (RETOSA) website clearly explains that the SADC region’s tourism sector believes that a single VISA (UNIVISA) for SADC will considerably improve ease of travel and the flow of visitors to and within the region.
The sector recognises that any mechanism that can facilitate the entry of international and domestic tourists to the region, and specifically to SADC countries, can create extremely positive economic benefits for the performance of those countries, especially in terms of job creation, financial impact, (i.e. revenue to the tourism sector and balance of payments improvement), fiscal revenue and growth in national GDP.
The reality of the truthfulness of this statement can not be over-emphasised. With a uni-visa facility, people are able to travel from one country to another without unnecessary delays and hindrances. Similarly, goods and services are easily accessible from one part of the continent to the other.
With the whole world expected to converge on the African continent in August next year, the economies of SADC countries will never be the same after the general assembly. But this depends on how the region prepares itself to maximise on this grand occasion.
There is need for policy-makers to agree on what is good for the continent and implement such agreements without further delays.
During the signing of the tripartite hosting agreement between Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, Zambia’s President Michael Sata and UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai on 29 May 2012, the leaders present agreed on the need to bring together the people of the two hosting nations and Africa as a whole in order to present an African experience to the visitors.
President Sata called for the removal of travel impediments that are currently disturbing the smooth flow of tourists within African countries.
Moreover, tourism leaders from 14 member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) recently called for respective governments to endorse a single visa program that would ease movement of tourists in the region.
Directors of tourism, national tourist board chief executives, marketing professionals, policymakers, and wildlife conservationists, said during their meeting in Tanzania that quick intervention by regional leaders is needed to introduce a single visa programme for both tourists and citizens visiting each SADC member state.
The tourism leaders and members of the board of directors of RETOSA noted with great concern that a single visa programme is timely as the number of foreign tourists visiting Southern Africa has been increasing after last year's World Cup tournament in South Africa.
Africa, which was the only region to record positive tourist growth figures in 2009, saw a growth of 6 percent to 49 million tourist arrivals during 2010, benefiting from relatively stable economic figures and events such as the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
The Southern African region recorded over 15 million visitors during the same period of the World Cup event, some of the visitors coming from other parts of the African continent and others from other parts of the world.
The economic benefits accruing from a uni-visa system are innumerable. It is not only Zimbabwe and Zambia that will benefit. The rest of the region and continent is set to tap into the vast opportunities presented by the UNWTO 2013 General Assembly.
Beyond doubt, Southern African countries lead the pack among tourist destinations in the world. Regrettably, there is very little or no tourism integration among countries within the region.
Africa, particularly, SADC, needs a common marketing brand to benefit the entire region, whose climatic conditions are like no other in the world; plenty of sunshine, beautiful weather conditions, a good people, wonder rivers, amazing landscapes and rich history to its credit.
As a matter of fact, the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) named six Southern African Development Community (SADC) nations among the nine major African destinations.
The good news is that despite the complexities that come with opening up markets of sovereign countries to unhindered tourist flow, the region is targeting to have the Uni-visa by 2013.
An official from the Zimbabwe Tourism ministry, Mr. Douglas Runyowa, recently highlighted that if the 2013 deadline for a uni-visa is missed, there would at least be (by then) a provisional tourist visa for the transfrontier park between Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Angola and Botswana.
When the world converges on African soil in August next year, it should experience the totality of African tourism – from game, nature reserves, wildlife safari and tours, horse riding, elephant back safaris, mountain biking, birding wilderness, walking trails-walking and science safaris.
The Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta in Botswana, Zimbabwe’s Great Zimbabwe, Lesotho’s Thaba Ntlenyana (Southern Africa’s highest peak), Malawi’s Lake Malawi and Namibia’s Walvis Bay – all these should be as easily accessible to any tourist and traveller as possible.
Tourism stakeholders visiting Africa for the first time next year should want to stay longer and bring more to tour Africa. That translates to millions of dollars in potential revenue. It also means significant infrastructural developments on the ground.
A uni-visa should see a tourist being able to travel from South Africa’s Cape Town to Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro, which is Africa’s tallest mountain, without hindrance.
For SADC and Africa, this is not the time to compete. It is time to pull together. Africa is one people and let the motherland rise and show the world that even though we have boundaries separating us, we have the same interests. We speak one language and we have one vision!
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.