This week saw two important regional African meetings take place, focusing on the tourism industry and how to better use one of the worlds foremost economic sectors to alleviate poverty through increased cooperation and the subsequent investments, job creation and foreign exchange earnings.
COMESA, The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, a 19 member trade block, held its first ever Tourism Forum in Kenyas capital Nairobi, where the Kenya Tourist Board, aka Magical Kenya hand in hand with the Ministry of Tourism and the Kenya Investment Authority acted as hosts.
Held at the Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club, the forum participants worked the proverbial overtime during the meeting days, by agreement exceeding the allotted time by several hours every day, so as to allow each delegation and each delegate to make contributions and add their own observations and experience, so that others could benefit from it. Discussed were a range of topics, starting from sharing the respective member states success stories, where notably East Africas premier hospitality group Serena Hotels was showcased by their Director of Sales and Marketing Rosemary Mugambi, alongside the story of the Seychelles and last but not least Egypt, which under difficult circumstances over the past years kept focus on tourism nevertheless.
Other sessions dealt with the expansion of economic opportunities, best practices for sustainable tourism development, tourism policy and strategy issues and the need to prioritize the sector within the national frameworks of economic activity. Corporate and social responsibility did of course not miss, with some remarkable stories told during the forum before the meeting turned its attention to what was considered a key issue, the relaxation of Visa requirements, for travel of COMESA citizens as well as for foreign visitors, with the ultimate aim to establish a common single Visa in the medium term. Regional cooperation was discussed and encouraged, on a bilateral and multilateral basis in form of pilot projects but other global issues such as the conservation of biodiversity too featured high, as all delegates were aware that only an intact environment could sustainably support wildlife and nature based tourism. Industry standards and the harmonization of them across the COMESA member states too was a major agenda item as was the closely linked development of human resources. The last sessions then turned their attention to the urgent need for infrastructure development, the opportunities the new media offered through a deliberate use of information and communication technologies, air transport and, no surprise here, the role the media can play in promoting destinations and showcasing wide range of natural, historical and cultural attractions found across the COMESA region. Here in fact a presentation was given by this correspondent on the eTurboNews Group and its focus on African destinations, besides giving and insight into the workings of the International Council of Tourism Partners, in short ICTP, which has green growth for tourism at its core, a perfect match to the COMESA theme of sustainable tourism developments Shaping the Future of Tourism in the Region.
The closing session then featured questions on product development and marketing initiatives, before the COMESA Secretariat staff then presented a range of findings and recommendations.
It was agreed that alongside the next COMESA Summit, due in November in Ugandas capital of Kampala, progress will be monitored as to having passed key issues on to the member states and have the delegations incorporate tourism related topics on their respective agendas.
The COMESA Business Council will form a dedicated tourism working group, incorporating key individuals from across the region to drive the agenda forward and the venue for the second tourism forum will be announced in due course.
Meanwhile has the Vanilla Island Cooperation also met during the same week, incidentally having three COMESA member states amongst them, namely the Seychelles, Madagascar and the Comoros, a fact not lost on the delegates of the Nairobi meeting who were keen to incorporate the experience and progress of the Indian Ocean islands cooperation into their own future progress and rollout. In particular interest was expressed to learn from the creation of an annual calendar of events, where each member state could submit a key tourism festival to be listed and then supported by fellow members, to increase visibility and widen the marketing reach.
The Vanilla Island Cooperation of La Reunion, where the headquarters will be placed in the future as it was just learned, Mauritius, Madagascar, Mayotte, Comoros and Seychelles was in fact expanded when the islands of Rodrigues, Nose Bey, Praslin and La Digue were admitted into the cooperation in their own rights, adding the proverbial oomph to the lineup. Also not lost on the COMESA forum was the fact that a generous support package from the European Union allowed the Vanilla Island cooperation to set up a head office, recruit a CEO and a Director of Tourism Marketing and allocate 300.000 Euros to marketing alone, a sum which will surely allow to make an impact through the new media and on the web as well through the more traditional methods of attending trade fairs, tourism shows and road shows. Is there another media juggernaut in the making, similar to what the Seychelles have accomplished over the past years, which is now literally everywhere in the world of tourism one looks? Well the right minds are present in the Vanilla Island cooperation to accomplish that and COMESAs Business Council has left no doubt that they will keep an eye on these developments and draw from the lessons learned there through member states input from the Comoros, Madagascar and of course the Seychelles.
A week of focus on tourism in the COMESA region and the Indian Ocean islands has come to an end but work now only starts in earnest, so watch this space for regular updates on progress made and decisions taken.