Uni-visa, joint marketing will boost tourism

The 2010 World Cup offers a unique opportunity to the region to move from a niche destination at the end of the world, and regrettably at the end of long and expensive air routes, to a major world tourism destination.

But to do this will require marketing the region as a whole. Even South Africa, with its highly developed tourism infrastructure, is simply not big enough and varied enough to break into the major world markets.

Some marketing of regional resources has been done. But there has been little practical work, beyond airlines in Southern Africa opening routes to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe or Livingstone in Zambia so they can add the Falls to a holiday in South Africa, or Botswana or Namibia.

Far more has to be done jointly.

Recently SADC tourism ministers met in Botswana, and, faced with the approach of 2010, dusted off plans for a “uni-visa” for the region (like an African “Schengen Visa”) and put these on the front burner for the legal experts of the SADC nations to turn into reality by the middle of 2008. Such a single visa would allow a traveller from outside to move around the whole sub-continent with the minimum of fuss and bother.

Such a uni-visa is a necessary first step. Holidaymakers do not like standing in queues at an assortment of embassies before their holiday, nor like queuing for hours at remote tropical border posts. If we want a tourist to hit the wineries of the Cape before swimming in the Indian Ocean in Mozambique, spotting elephants in Zimbabwe on their way to Victoria Falls and then relaxing by the Okavango Delta in Botswana before seeing the harsh desert in Namibia, we have to make the travel possible and easy.

But the visa is only a first step.

Too many in Southern Africa see neighbours as competitors, rather than as partners. If someone is going to spend a few thousand US dollars flying to Southern Africa and staying in hotels for three weeks, they will want their money’s worth. And that means giving them a choice of the vast number of destinations between Cape Agulhas in the south and the Congo River and Mount Kilimanjaro in the north.

In other words, if we work apart, we will fail. If we work together, and market the region as a whole, we will all benefit immensely. Europe and North America already do this, to the great benefit of America states and those small European countries. We need to recognise that marketing, say, Zambia in isolation is about as daft as marketing Illinois in isolation.

National campaigns need to be additions to a regional campaign, not an alternative.

Next week there is another important step towards regional marketing; the opening of the first border post within the Great Limpopo Trans-frontier Park. Few tourists visiting this park will be fascinated by trying to figure out where some artificial boundary dating from the Congress of Berlin in the 19th century actually runs. What will excite them is the diversity of ecologies in a 35 000 square kilometre wilderness. So this park will have to be marketed jointly.

The South African and Mozambican officials manning that joint post have a huge responsibility. They will be setting standards for many other regional joint ventures.

If they want to have some bureaucratic competition over how many forms a tourist must fill in, or how long they must queue, a great dream could die.

Other trans-frontier parks, including what must become the grandest ‘ a huge area in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia and including the Victoria Falls ‘ are planned. These will not only offer world-class destinations to any tourist, but should also accelerate regional marketing and regional thinking.

A new era is dawning for Southern Africa in the tourism world. We now just have to grasp the opportunity and turn the dreams of so many into practical reality.

August 2006
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