UNWTO comes to Reunion


(Posted 10th September 2013)

(Seen here at the press conference from right to left Mr. Didier Robert, President of the region of La Reunion, Dr. Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of UNWTO and Alain St. Ange, Minister for Tourism and Culture, Seychelles and current President of the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands)

Yesterday afternoon, at the Regional Council Building in Saint Denis, did the UNWTO Secretary General sign a comprehensive MoU with the President of the region of La Reunion Mr. Didier Robert, ahead of the organization’s global conference on Sustainable Tourism Development in Small Islands. This conference brings together tourism ministers and stakeholders from as far as the Caribbean to the islands in the South Pacific, all united by the challenges plaguing their planners, politicians and people, namely rising sea levels due to climate change, the need for conservation of sparse island resources, increasing connectivity to and from often remote ocean locations to the rest of the world, the need to create value and jobs out of tourism for their growing populations and being able to put themselves on the global tourism map.

Bringing the UNWTO conference to La Reunion is by many seen as a result of the efforts by the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands president Alain St. Ange, who has for years been promoting the concept of cooperation, sharing of resources and building alliances by promoting each others’ strengths and unique selling propositions. Alain St. Ange was in August elected to the UNWTO Executive Council, the first time the Seychelles have been represented at this key organ of the UN’s World Tourism Organization. Dr. Rifai in fact not only applauded the cooperation between the Vanilla Islands, and their adding, subject to the approval by the membership later today, inclusion of such more distant islands like the Maldives and Sri Lanka, but also pledged UNWTO’s support for them to develop along the lines of the Caribbean Tourism Organization and ASEAN, which over the past decades have made enormous strides in marketing their regions and putting them, alongside individual islands, on the global tourism map.

The panel agreed to tackle the question of making the Vanilla Islands more accessible to visitors, in particular visitors from Africa and other new and emerging markets, acknowledging the challenges of Visa to those islands which are part of the European Union, like La Reunion and Mayotte. Other issues raised like connectivity between the islands by air, on a regular basis with direct flights instead of having to fly via waypoints on the African mainland too will be on the agenda in the upcoming and future meetings. In addition was confirmation received to questions raised by this correspondent to engage with the major global cruise lines to create, promote and then sell cruise itineraries across the entire range of Indian Ocean islands, which offer such varied attractions as the volcanoes of La Reunion, the national parks of Madagascar, the Creole culture and pristine waters of the Seychelles to the cultural monuments of the Sri Lankan highlands. Clearly there is a new dawn breaking for the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands and a new spirit of hope is sweeping through the corridors of the members’ tourism establishments in expectation of still better days to come. Watch this space.

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