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What is a regional tourism charter?
It is a ministerial statement of intent codifying the political commitment of regional governments towards the developments and growth of tourism and hospitality. A charter can also be referred to as a platform for partnership between the private and public sectors or simply an agreed process between member countries on promoting positive policies that enhance competitiveness and builds capacity, liberalising and opening up cross-border tourism, identifying and addressing emerging tourism issues that affect the region.
A charter comprising Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Malawi would tremendously benefit regional tourism.
Tourism is becoming highly competitive and a tourist has an array of choices of where to spend their next vacation. Easy accessibility and affordability of a destination will determine their choices.
A destination in this case is not restricted to a country. It can stretch to cover a region, or even a continent. Therefore the need for a regional charter cannot be over emphasised.
The powers that be need to be enlightened to recognise the benefits that will accrue to the region from such corporation.
A regional charter is a source of growth, demand, employment and foreign currency earnings for the region. It is also a strong vehicle of understanding and appreciation of our cultural diversity. The strong cultural ties between the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe and the Zulu of South Africa provides a fascinating history of cultural links between the two countries. When the region works together for the betterment of tourism it promotes an engagement of industry to preserve and enhance the natural environment.
The Transfrontier Park project offers a great opportunity to leverage on such regional cooperation to conserve the natural environment. The charter therefore should encourage the removal of impediments that discourage the tourism business and investment, increase mobility of visitors and tourism goods and services and enhance recognition and understanding of tourism as a vehicle for economic and social development.
Instead of operators within the Victoria Falls area engaging each other in a zero-sum war of who has the best view of the Falls, they should ideally be working together as a region to ensure that the few tourists who brace up against the ugly forces of flying get real value for money . The argument of who has the best view of the Victoria Falls will have no place if Zambian and Zimbabwean industry operators allow customers to enjoy the products without any bias. Sadly this argument is preoccupying the operators that they have become insensitive to the need to ensure the tourist deserves to see the most magnificent view of one of the world`s wonders.
Such a dissatisfied tourist will tell 10 more other tourists and the opportunity cost of such a myopic view to tourism and business in general becomes evident. To kick-start such a charter will need the active participation and commitment of government and the industry. There is need for individual and collective action plans to be synchronised and aligned to the overall strategic objectives and goals for the region.
Research and policy advocacy need to be undertaken to align regional with local initiatives. Equally common markets can be identified and strategies formulated to develop a common regional strategy that yield the greatest results to all members within the charter. The individual ministers of tourism in all member countries and their tourism representative heads should meet occasionally to review on policy framework and insist on regular dialogue at private sector level. The relevance of a ministerial taskforce lies in the provision of the framework for regulation, information and education.
Governments` role will predominantly remain that of facilitation and the market will continue to lead the process. Government handles the demand side and the private sector the supplier side. Governments through this charter should supply information for investments into tourism through the provision of accurate local and regional investment information and analysis, forecasts into future demands, and exchange of information with other regional countries.
The concept of a charter was implemented in New Zealand through Apec member states and was dubbed the Apec-Tourism Charter; Some of the notable achievements were sustafliatrie management of tourism outcomes and impacts, improved visitor mobility and growth in investment in the tourism industry for member states.
In southern Africa we share a unique product. I believe if we put our heads together as an industry and eliminate national boundaries the tourism infiastry in the region will grow to unprecedented levels.
I believe the New Partnership for Africa`s Development (Nepad) as an initiative has the same objectives too.