By Sharon Kavhu
Tourism can be a powerful catalyst for inclusive economic growth and a vehicle for sustainable development if harnessed and carefully developed, says the SADC Secretariat. In a statement in commemoration of the World Tourism Day which falls on 27 September, SADC acting executive secretary, Dr Thembinkosi Mhlongo, said tourism development and associated investment create employment.
“Today, the 27th of September is the World Tourism Day. Since 1980, when the statutes of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) entered into force, the day has been commemorated globally with the purpose of fostering awareness among the international community of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic value,” said Mhlongo.
“SADC is cognisant that if harnessed and carefully developed, tourism can be a powerful catalyst for inclusive economic growth. Some of the tourist attractions are found in the most remote areas with limited access to essential services, supporting infrastructure and employment opportunities. Tourism development and associated investment create employment thereby contributing to poverty reduction in these areas,” he said.
This year’s World Tourism Day is being commemorated under the theme: “Sustainable Tourism – A Tool to Development”.
According to the SADC Secretariat, the theme reinforces SADC’s resolve to use tourism as a vehicle for sustainable development.
He added: “The 1998 Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Tourism Development advocates for the promotion of environmentally and socially sustainable tourism development and calls on Member States to promote the tourism industry for the improvement of people’s livelihoods.
“SADC recognises that the growth of the tourism sector has concomitant effect on the growth of other sectors of the economy such as accommodation, information, communication and technology (ICT), conservation, agriculture, manufacturing, energy and water.
“Due to the interconnectedness with these sectors, the tourism sector creates demand for goods and services and in the process, catalyses the holistic development of the economy. For instance, in many tourist destinations in southern Africa, small scale business operators find ready markets for their local products such as agricultural produce and curios, while also generating employment opportunities for unskilled and semi-skilled community members, thereby promoting inclusive growth.”
He said the SADC region is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the distinctive factors to promote its goals of economic development and regional integration, and ultimately poverty reduction for its citizens.
“The region has unique natural features and diversity of tourism appeals ranging from rich wild fauna and flora, scenic terrestrial, aquatic ecosystems, the robust cultural heritage, historic sites, vibrant cities and sporting events. These features, coupled with the peace and stability the region enjoys, make Southern Africa one of the most attractive holiday destinations for tourists from the across the globe,” he added.
However, he acknowledged that there is a lot of work that lies ahead for the tourism sector to be a powerful catalyst for inclusive economic growth. While there is a lot which needs to be done, Mhlongo said SADC member states were making significant efforts in improving the tourism sector by improving the quality of service, safety standards and physical structures as a way of attracting tourist investments in the region.
The acting executive secretary urged SADC countries to make use of resources available such as the Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa (Retosa), to improve the competitiveness of the tourism industry regionally.
He said: “Retosa can be used to promote and market southern Africa as a single but multi-faceted tourist destination.
“By collaborative improvement of the product offer and joint delivery and marketing to trade and consumers, we will increase Southern Africa’s visibility in the global tourism market, thereby increase the number of visitors and investors to the region with resultant benefits to individual member states.
“As we commemorate the World Tourism Day, I encourage tourists to explore the beauty of the untapped natural resources and rich culture of the SADC region in a responsible manner. I also encourage SADC citizens to be the ambassadors of tourist attractions and products the region offers.”
He urged SADC countries to work together in making tourism a catalyst for positive change and a tool for attaining all the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental), each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as SADC’s development priorities as stipulated in the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan.