From http://allafrica.com
Gethsemane Mwizabi
9 August 2011

S.A.D.C. Map

BEYOND doubt, Southern African countries are among the leading tourist destinations in the world, yet there is very little or no tourism integration among countries within the region.

There is no 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.

Southern Africa has a lot of game, nature reserves and is home to many mammals. Numerous wildlife safari and tour companies operate guided tours to Southern Africa. Popular adventure travel activities in Southern Africa include: horse riding, elephant back safaris, tours, mountain biking, birding wilderness, walking trails-walking and science safaris.

A magnificent waterfalls like the Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe automatically puts the region on the global map. Being one of the Seven Wonders of the World, it remains a popular tourist attraction in the region.

Only 80km from the Victoria Falls, Chobe National Park in Botswana is one of the most prolific game viewing areas with more than 100,000 elephants.

The Okavango Delta in Botswana is a wonderful wetland within a desert, getting its waters from rain falling in Central Africa, 1,000km away.

How about Zimbabwe’s Great Zimbabwe historical site, Lesotho’s Thaba Ntlenyana (Southern Africa’s highest peak), Malawi’s Lake Malawi and Namibia’s Walvis Bay?

South Africa’s Cape Town is a highlight of any trip to Southern Africa. The natural beauty of Cape Town makes it one of the most attractive cities in the world. Cape Town boasts beautiful beaches as well as the impressive Table Mountain right in the heart of the city. The restaurants are world class, and so are the wines. Cape Town is also one of the most culturally diverse cities in Africa and has a reputation for social tolerance.

Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro, which is Africa’s tallest mountain, stands out as a major tourist attraction.

Despite the abundant tourist attractions in Southern Africa, there is sadly very little integrated tourism, where the region can market its tourist products under a common marketing brand. As a result, the region does not benefit as a whole.

Integration has potential to increase tourism earnings among destinations. If well organised, integration would promote free flow of traffic and enhance understanding between the people of the region, as common ownership enhances and promotes peace.

Integration could also increase chances of addressing issues of climate change that no doubt concern all.

As the saying goes, no man is an island; countries in the region cannot survive on their own without having the need for the other. In this case integration should not mean dependence but interdependence as every country has something unique to offer.

Zambia Tourism Board (ZTB) managing director Felix Chaila says Southern Africa should find a common ground for the common good of the region. He says one way of creating a successful regional integration would be for countries in the region to embrace integrated tourism through a common marketing approach, beyond political lines.

He cited the Caribbean Islands, which happens to be the most tourism dependent region in the world. The Caribbean tourism organisation comprises 34 member countries and private sector members. The primary responsibility has been to market the destination under the brand ‘Carribean.’

Marketing integration strategies in the Caribbean have included: destination branding pooled resources for sales promotion and advertising and stronger advocacy to highlight unique features of the destination like carnivals and musicians.

Thus between 1970 and 2010 arrivals grew from four million to 23 million and tourism receipts constitute more than 30 per cent of exports to the region. While the Caribbean islands subscribe to different political ideologies and philosophies, they have laid down their differences and have found common ground in tourism.

For example, communist Cuba, Franco-phone Dominican Republic, Anglo-Jamaica and Anglo Bahamas and several other islands in that region have formed a tourism synergy to make the region perhaps, the most favourite tourist destination in the world.

“I like to think that a successful regional integrated tourism is possible in Southern Africa because we have lots to show to the world. We just need to put our heads together get this common marketing strategy done,” says Mr Chaila.

One of the biggest challenges that have made integration so difficult in the region is often that destinations with potential to integrate are in competition with each other. But the case for an integrated marketing approach would create market visibility synergies from a mix of niche attractions.

This in turn would create a stronger competitive positioning out of a combined resource base thereby enhancing the attraction of products whose appeal is diminishing. Further, the case of an integrated marketing approach brings out the best opportunity to tackle challenges.

Drawing from the Caribbean success story, an integrated marketing approach would increase capacity for attracting long haul visitors who are multi – destinational in character.

In order for Southern Africa to successfully integrate in terms of tourism, member countries should stop competing against each other. Benefits accruing to each member state should result from the same other than emphasising on political considerations.

For example, there is no need for Zambia and Zimbabwe to compete against each over the Victoria Falls. The two countries should find ways to market the falls as a single product as opposed to marketing it separately. It would be up to the tourists to decide which side they would prefer to view the Victoria Falls.

Marketer and former Zambia Institute of Marketing president Matongo Matimwandi says now is the time Southern Africa embraced integrated tourism, for the sake of development and progress. “Southern Africa has a lot to show to the outside world. I guess if we put our heads together as one, then we can benefit a lot from tourism,” he says.

As the case is in the Caribbean, there should be common ground for the common good of the region. Opportunities for an integrated marketing approach in southern Africa are plenty. The existing bilateral air service agreements, open air sky policy, implementation of the Univisa, harmonisation of border charges, park fees and insurance charges are some of the opportunities that should be explored and implemented.

Regional products packages and joint promotional activities between tourism boards should also be developed.

Examples of regional integration products in Southern Africa, includes Table Mountain/Victoria Falls, Lake Malawi /South Luangwa, Chobe/Victoria falls, Chobe /Kafue national park, Walvis bay/Okavango delta/Victoria Falls.

Visa requirements for Africans travelling within the continent should be eliminated. Sorting out visas can play an important role in contributing to peace among the people of the region. Airlines play a vital role in the development of tourism, which is why governments in the region should relax visa requirements so that there is a uni-visa to benefit travelers.

This would make the region more attractive. As Mr Chaila puts it, tourists planning multi-destinations holidays within the region may stay away from the region because of the visa requirements.

Southern Africa has lots to benefit from integration tourism, which is why countries within the region need to collaborate beyond political lines.

For example, the Vanilla Islands an affiliation of the island nations Seychelles, Madagascar, La Réunion and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean in 2010 formed a new travel destination brand. The aim of the co-operation is to pool forces and jointly market the region compared to the solely individual marketing of each island in the past.

As Africa is seeking innovative ways of fostering development on the continent tourism should be a major priority by governments and private sectors to address existing socio-economic challenges, like poverty, unemployment, under-development, sickness and disease.

An integrated tourism sector is an essential element of peace-making and is critical in all efforts to sell regional blocs in Africa as prime tourist destinations.

In this day and age, where travel has become much easier, tourism might be an effective tool for bringing people together, irrespective of their nationality, ethnicity, colour and religion,”

Successful integration spots like Caribbean, vanilla Islands have had their economies grow as a result of tourism. In a now globalized world, one country cannot stand on its own which is why, regional integration in areas like tourism is an absolute necessity.

Even the Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa (RETOSA) concept that brings together the 15 fascinating countries of the Southern Africa (SADC Member States), sees integrated tourism as a unique opportunity to discover the natural wonders and splendors of the region.

According the RETOSA, homepage, the level of investment in tourism opportunities, however, needs to be raised through deepened awareness and a more aggressive tourism investment promotion. This requires closer liaison with the sector responsible for National Investment Promotion to ensure that member states’ investment promotion strategies and the regional tourism investment promotion strategy are aligned. Doing so would strategically position the region to be a multi-faceted but single tourism investment destination.

The ZTB which has just rebranded to “Zambia Let’s Explore” from “Zambia the real Africa”, is now engaged in a robust marketing to attract more tourists and investment to the sector, which has potential to earn Zambia, and several countries in the regions huge foreign exchange.

Tourism could be used as a vehicle to achieve sustainable social and economic development through the full realization of the potential of the region and ensure equitable, balanced and complementary development of tourism in the region.

Promotion of tourism in the region as a single unit should be aggressive to have multi-faceted tourism investment destinations, capitalising on the common strengths and highlighting individual countries.

The exotic and sentimental charms of the region, including its multitude experience, are other characteristics that can also play a part in creating a more positive image and increase the visibility of the region within the European market (France, UK, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy), Scandinavian market (Denmark, Holland, Sweden, and Finland), Asian market (India and China) and American market (United States, Canada and Brazil).

As the case is with the Caribbean and Vanilla Islands, it is necessary for tourism board representatives from the region to agree on an image brand to better position the region at the international level. There is need to develop marketing plan for the region’s tourism industry.

Ultimately, beyond political boundaries there should be more perfect union among African nations especially Southern Africa to make integrated tourism not just a dream but a reality. Indeed, a need for a more perfect union in tourism is reckoning!