Cross-border movement is a prominent feature in Southern Africa, popularised mainly by labour migration. This trend has been there for years, as people seek employment opportunities in perceived greener pastures.
In the case of Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), the prevalent trend has been that thousands of migrants are destined for South Africa, the sub-regional powerhouse and highly economically sophisticated economy, drawn mainly from neighbours such as Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania.
From a conservative perspective, few of such movements within the region are for leisure and tourism purposes although of late consciousness has been gradually increasing towards sampling the region’s rich tourism heritage.
Outside South Africa, surveys show there is significant human traffic to Botswana, Namibia and Angola, among others, where there are equally perceived socio-economic opportunities.
In this regard, tourism industry players, supported by research bodies and policymakers, need to pay critical attention to these trends and devise strategies that tap into this travelling market, which is largely dominated by youthful citizens in particular, and elite professionals seeking greener pastures in the region.
Experts say critical insight in this regard will no doubt assist Southern Africa member-states to deal with poverty and alleviate stubborn inequalities that have been in existence since colonial times.
There have been concerns over general lack of awareness of available tourism packages domestically and in the region as a whole due to limited marketing. In Zimbabwe, for instance, government, through the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), is in the process of developing a Domestic Tourism Campaign to augment gains from foreign international arrivals.
“ZTA sees an opportunity for the domestic market to be revived. The campaign is aimed at increasing domestic travel, creating interest and hype on local tourism products,” says the authority.
The initiative is set to ensure the country does not rely on international arrivals alone but derives earnings from diverse local and regional inflows.
The lack of exposure to existing local and regional tourism packages has meant that fewer people have an appetite for participating in the industry.
The glaring implication is that tourism industry revenues would drop or rise in tandem with international arrival patterns. In some instances, tourism infrastructure and facilities would lie idle or is underutilised when there are no foreign international clients.
Financial constraints and low income have also meant that fewer locals participate in domestic tourism, let alone regional tourism. This scenario has been compounded by lack of, among others, knowledge of international travel protocols, regulatory and compliance procedures.
These tend to manifest themselves in challenges faced at the ports of entry where travellers face stressful bureaucratic bottlenecks and at times poor or hostile customs services and border clearance delays.
There is also not sufficient research data to support tourism development. The region, thus, needs to work together to address these limitations by harmonising tourism policies, developing relevant infrastructure and reviving marketing approaches to derive positive gains. In a technology-conscious world, more people mainly the youth rely on the Internet and social media to access information.
This requires the regional tourism and travel industry players to perhaps increase their online presence by activating their websites and seriously engaging the market on all platforms.
Such measures would buttress the ideals of the Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa (Retosa), whose fundamental anchor “is an understanding that tourism is an economic and trade imperative”.
Retosa sees tourism and its relations to economic growth, employment creation and poverty elimination as fundamentally interlinked to stimulation of investment and commerce.
In its strategy repositioning last year, Retosa indicated its drive towards a vision of moving the SADC region share of tourism from its average 2 percent of global tourist arrivals and receipts respectively to 5 percent within the next decade.
This new vision is firmly founded on strong partnerships with the private sector operating in the region as opposed to focusing on government and public entities alone.
According to the African Journal of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure Vol. 5(4) – 2016, SADC can effectively “use tourism as a catalyst to increase the socio-economic wellbeing and improve the standards of living within communities in member states”.
The above insight is buttressed by the Tourism Association of Botswana, which views tourism as one of the fastest growing sectors and foreign exchange earners for the SADC region.
While the tourism industry brings so much hope to the SADC region, it goes without saying that there is an imbalance in the sector’s growth, which differs from one country to the other.
It is common knowledge that among all regional member states, South Africa is the most visited country.
There is a need, therefore, to take a look at what things South Africa does right that others can emulate to improve their tourism earnings.
The African Journal of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure, for instance, stresses the need for Southern Africa to work hard together to harness the tourism traffic in their shores, especially the low-cost market.
This on its own requires deliberate and pro-active marketing targeting niche sectors.
The Mozambique National Tourism Strategy (2010) makes reference to this desire to promote tourism in the country by targeting and capitalising on niche markets such as the youths in particular in order to gain a competitive edge.
This emphasises the need for member states to encourage the youths to grab up opportunities and participate in the tourism industry. In 2014, the World Bank acknowledged that the world over, the youths are essentially the most active population group in tourism given that they travel for different reasons covering both leisure and business.
Of late there has also been a notable increase in youthful traffic for educational purposes.
It is encouraging that SADC, working with the World Tourism Organisation, has agreed to look into the harmonisation of the classification of hotel standards, a crucial step in promoting tourism between regional member states. Such collaboration will no doubt assist the regional players in the hotel industry to improve their services and appeal to locals as well.
Besides this, it is also critical that SADC member states focus more on research development capacity in tourism as well as increasing participation of small to medium and micro enterprises, marginalised communities, the youth and women in the tourism industry as well as improving quality, competitiveness and standards of services and infrastructure of tourism industry for the entire region, says the United Nations Development Programme.