The Lusaka headquartered Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa, in short COMESA, has of late decided to pay greater attention to the trade blocks tourism potential. The organization, which now spans much of the African continent an reaches from Zambia to Congo and from East Africa through the Horn of Africa to Egypt, will hold its first ever Tourism Forum in Kenyas capital Nairobi between 22nd and 24th of August.
Titled Shaping the Future of Tourism in the COMESA Region, the Nairobi meeting will be the first of a series of such gatherings across the trade block, bringing together the private sector, which is expected to drive investments, expansion, job creation and foreign exchange earnings, while other participants will be drawn from the respective governments. Here in particular are planners and policy makers being targeted to ensure that the needs of the private sector are better understood and incorporated into the respective national planning and budgeting processes.
Also participating in this first ever sustainable tourism forum will be decision makers from the UNs World Tourism Organization, The World Travel and Tourism Council WTTC, UNCTAD, EU, OECD, SADC, EAC and IGAD, to bring all those on board which in one way or another are linked to global tourism and have the capacity to shape things through economic and technical cooperation to help the COMESA trade block reach its goals.
The main objectives of the Nairobi forum have been outlined in details availed to this correspondent as:
Discuss and develop a sustainable tourism development programme
Bring together private and public sector stakeholders to define the means of shaping the future of the sector
Formulate regional programmes on tourism, including the movement of tourists and partnerships between member states
While this is a tall order, considering the variances in the development status of some of the 19 member countries vis a vis tourism, it is thought that sub-regional pilot programmes could match countries where tourism is already a major economic force and then pass on the lessons learned and the experience drawn from cooperation amongst them. Instead of re-inventing the wheels it will then be possible to transfer experience and knowledge to other countries, where a tourism potential exists but where it has not been exploited in any significant way until now. Participating countries, according to information at hand, have already expressed their hope that with the planned introduction of a regional East African tourist Visa, such developments could be used as an anchor to make the tourism industry one of the economic pillars to create jobs, attract investments and spread prosperity, though it has been acknowledged that bringing the least and less developed countries in terms of general economic activities and more specifically tourism, will take a major effort.
Hence is the presence of international organizations and development partners thought crucial for the success of this first tourism forum and its objectives for future economic developments across COMESA, using tourism as a platform to combat poverty and bring some level of prosperity in particular to those countries, where tourism is right now an unexploited potential only. Watch this space.