The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) General Assembly is coming to Africa and this has significantly shifted attention to the continent’s tourism. The UNWTO is mainly a Member States affair and several other agencies accredited as observers.
COMESA is not one of them but nevertheless will proudly cheer its two Member States, Zambia and Zimbabwe as they host the grand assembly in Livingstone. Other COMESA States who are Members of the UNWTO will definitely be there.
One hopes that the Assembly will help Africa lift the weighty issues that hold back the continent’s tourism potential to give it a new spring. After all, why should African States with such wonders as the Victoria Falls continue to host lesser numbers of foreign tourists than that of single cities elsewhere?
From outside the Livingstone UNWTO Assembly hall, COMESA’s will be listening to pick out key words that would signal that may give Africa tourism a fresh thrust. The most critical being the need to develop a regional Sustainable Tourism Strategy.
COMESA believes that the adoption of a common strategy will minimize the negative impacts of tourism on society and the environment and maximize its positive contribution to local communities, to conservation, and to the quality of life of the hosts and visitors.
A recent study conducted by COMESA in seven of its Member States including Zambia, Zimbabwe, Comoros Islands, Mauritius, DRC, Swaziland and Uganda has flagged out some key challenges that hold back development of the tourism sector. The study titled “Sustainable Tourism Development Framework: A Basis for Development of a Regional Tourism Strategy and Policy for the COMESA Region,” identifies the following;
Tourism infrastructure and facilities are lacking across the region; the States have weak and poorly funded tourism institutions and narrow product range; the labour force is not sufficiently trained and skilled to serve the industry; there is little involvement of local community in tourism, and very limited use of ICT especially among small and medium enterprises. The financial sector in some Member States is not liberalized and the marketing of the destinations not well funded,” says the report.
Some areas where quick gains can be realized are in the Information, Communication Technology (ICT) and human resources development. Significantly, e-tourism is now a major contributor to marketing and distribution in the developed world. Any successful tourism strategy will highly depend on ICT given the increasing importance of online bookings and the promotion of destinations.
Human resource was found to be a huge challenge across the whole region. Some Member States have resorted to foreigners to run certain aspects of the industry especially tour operations. To overcome this challenge, COMESA calls for a clear focus in quality, capacity and competence.
“There should be harmonization of tourism and hospitality curricula, and sub-regional tourism training schools should be set up in countries that already have strong tourism institutions. Neighbouring countries can use such institutions at subsidized rates instead of taking students abroad for quality training” says the COMESA study.
It also recommends that governments’ expenditure on the sector should be increased and the role of tourism’s pivotal role in economic growth be publicized to influence and sustain growth. Further, the regulatory frameworks should be reviewed to facilitate and not hinder tourism. Deliberate steps should be taken to improve infrastructure to service tourists and encourage investments, facilitate air accessibility, and implement open skies policy, single visa regimes and data collection. Special focus should also be placed on product diversification, strong destination marketing and improved business environment.
Thankfully, 14 out of the 19 COMESA States have identified tourism as a priority sector for social, economic and environmental development. But the vision of sustainable tourism development will only be actualized within the frameworks of a unified approach.