COMESA BUSINESS FORUM ENDS WITH TALKING TOURISM
Tourism was the penultimate item on the agenda of the just ended COMESA Business Forum, which brought together hundreds of business wo/men at the lakeside convention resort of Munyonyo.
Two days of intensive business to business meetings alongside a range of keynote speeches and presentations discussed progress made across the 19 member states in doing business within, but also highlighted the remaining challenges vis a vis introducing a ‘greener’ economy, improving agriculture and agro processing to feed the growing populations across the trade block, finding affordable financing for projects, the lowering of non tariff barriers and increased cooperation in major infrastructure projects.
Already mentioned repeatedly during the proceedings, the tourism sector discussions focused on restrictive Visa policies, making travel within even COMESA itself, leave alone across the continent, as difficult as getting a Visa for the European Schengen countries, to the UK or the US, a situation lamented about by a number of delegates.
Amos Wekesa, chairman of the Uganda Tourism Association, gave a comprehensive overview of the constraints. Mentioned first and foremost was the need of a complete change of mindset by the governments of the memberstates vis a vis tourism, to finally move beyond mere words and lipservice and properly facilitate the sector the same way as manufacturing or agriculture were getting priority in the annual budgets.
Wekesa listed a number of areas where tourism, alongside other sectors of the economy, suffered less than optimal facilitation, such as road infrastructure linking tourism attractions and parks to make access to the mostly rural areas easier, lack of affordable and direct air links between COMESA countries, as well as across Africa at large. Visas were listed as a source of preventing travel instead of encouraging it for tourists from abroad, as a multi country visit could set a family back by several hundred added dollars, money better spend in destination where it could reach the grass roots.
Of key importance too was the issue of protection of the resource envelope tourism was based on in most countries, wildlife and forests, where poaching and illegal logging had reached alarming proportions and where environmental protection and best practice was often bulldozed in favour of mining or oil exploration, instead of seeking a harmonious coexistence, allowing for both in the long term in a sustainable manner.
Wekesa ended with two other key areas, manpower development and skills transfer to create an empowered workforce and the cost of insurance, which needed to create products for the tourism sector at affordable premiums. Said Wekesa to this correspondent: ‘It is very positive news to know COMESA is taking tourism seriously by including it in their agenda starting this year and if the above challenges are dealt with, then COMESA has the potential to get its population out of abject poverty and even say good bye to AID because of the available great wealth of attractions in the region’.
This correspondent then delivered a presentation on what COMESA was expecting from the UNWTO’s General Assembly next year, co-hosted by Zambia and Zimbabwe, highlighting the great disparities of tourism’s money and passenger flows, where the G/T 20 countries in 2011 took two thirds of the global trillion plus US Dollar tourism receipts and two thirds of the global tourism traffic, leaving Africa with only about 3.5 percent of global traffic and just over 5 percent of global spending.
The COMESA Sustainable Tourism Development Forum in August in Nairobi had generated a range of findings and recommendations which the speaker encouraged the COMESA Secretariat to share with UNWTO to include in the agenda of the meeting next year in Livingstone and Victoria Falls, so that Africa takes centre stage and solutions for Africa can be discussed and formulated of how best the global tourism body can help the continent to begin using sustainable tourism as an engine of growth.
Now underway at Munyonyo is the political part of the summit, overshadowed by the current Congo crisis, which undoubtedly will take centre stage in all the deliberations, while delegates to the COMESA Business Forum were enjoying visits to some of Uganda’s natural attractions including the Source of the River Nile in Jinja.