On the 28th of November, ministers of tourism from all over the Southern African Development Community (SADC) congregated in Victoria Falls for a three-day conference at the prestigious Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.
The ministers gathered to discuss ways and strategies that the member states in the region can collaborate better to grow and sustain a powerful tourism industry within Southern Africa.
Geographically, Victoria Falls sits right at the centre of the SADC region, and has become one of the top destinations for international travellers to Africa. All things considered, it is perhaps fitting that a conference of Southern African tourism ministers should take place here in this iconic destination.
To open the event, the Minister of State for Matebeleland Province in Zimbabwe, The Honourable C. Matema, welcomed all the ministers to the mighty Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and urged his colleagues to spare a moment out of their busy schedules and visit the falls. “I promise you that you will have quite a memorable experience at the falls,” he urged.
Zimbabwe Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Walter Mzembi (MP), in his official opening speech, said that the decision to hold the meeting in the great Victoria Falls was informed by the very obvious reason that this World Wonder, the only one there is in this part of the world, is a natural tourist resource shared by the SADC. “I hear that some of you have been to this wonder”, he said, “and that you were covered by its refreshing and cascading smoke that blesses and cleanses all. You all stand blessed, all of you.”
He went on to point out that many regions of the world are facing challenges of socio-political instability including terrorism, and are therefore, not as attractive to tourists as the SADC region. “This is an opportune moment for our region to take advantage of its competitive edge on the continent,” he said. And increase its contribution to the growing global market share from the current 4% of the World’s global arrivals of 1.087 billion, according to the UNWTO report of 2013, to double digit levels by 2020.”
For SADC to effectively exploit these global opportunities, he said, it is necessary that the region pool its resources to create economies of scale.
He identified the trend of developing Regional Tourism Blocks in Africa. “Other regions in all the continents of the world are establishing these regional tourism blocks and creating conducive environments for ease of doing business and cross-border movement of tourists and citizens.” A case in point is the East African Community (EAC), which has moved with speed to implement a regional common visa, a strategy that the SADC has considered for some time.
Other important initiatives are to include accessibility infrastructure development, including expansion and modernisation of regional airports and airlines; active private sector involvement and participation; and integrating Southern Africa into a single but multifaceted Regional Destination and Tourist Brand.
The mayor of Victoria Falls, Counsellor S. Mpofu, ended the talks with a vote of thanks. He said that the artificial borders existing between Southern African countries are meant for human beings only because of sovereignty reasons. “Wild animals do not recognise these artificial boundaries, they travel from one country to the other every moment of their lives, and therefore, they belong to us all. In-order to ensure their safety, he said, we have to jointly carry out certain programs together, harmonise our policies and reach out to each other as neighbouring countries and indeed as SADC.”