Executive Talk Exclusive
eTN talks with Executive Director of RETOSA
(eTN) - When tourism and travel trade executives are set to meet in Zimbabwe for the 37th Africa Travel association (ATA) Congress in May this year, it is a great honor for the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region to have its member state hosting global delegates who will discuss key issues affecting tourism development in the African continent. Under an umbrella organization, the Regional Tourism Organization of Southern Africa (RETOSA), regional members of SADC are currently marketing this part of the African continent as a single destination comprised of 15 members, boasting diversified tourist attractions. In this exclusive talk, RETOSA's Executive Eirector, Mr. Francis Mfune, speaks briefly about the regional tourism development and the way forward.
eTN: How do you rate Southern African tourism and its position in Africa compared to other parts of the African continent?
Francis Mfune: Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region is a unique tourist destination. The Southern African region is made up of very diverse products. We have 15 products in the name of the countries of the Southern African Development Community, and if you start from Mauritius, which is one of our SADC member states, this island is very unique by its tourist friendly beaches and services.
This island, Mauritius, is very unique in the sense that it has unique products in terms of sand and sea, and warmth for holidays, and similarly to that, of course, you come closer to the shores of Mozambique, which is a little bit similar to Mauritius.
Mauritius is different in the sense that this country (Mozambique) is very strong. It has got both the wildlife, as well as sea and sand. And if you come to South Africa, for example, that one is almost “A World in One.” You have wildlife; you have sun, sea, and sand; you have got people with very rich cultures as well, like the Zulu people – home of Shaka Zulu. You get unique products such as Table Mountain in Cape Town. You have one of the biggest national parks on Earth, the Kruger National Park.
Come to Botswana. Botswana boasts of the biggest concentration of the elephant, for example, you can see very close, big herds of elephants, very similar to Zimbabwe where big numbers of elephants are easily seen. Zimbabwe is also the home of the famous Victoria Falls, which is shared by Zambia. That is Zimbabwe and Zambia where you can see Victoria Falls.
And you come closer north to Malawi. Malawi again is a very unique product. You talk about national parks - Lake Malawi National Park is very, very unique, as [are] the beautiful scenery of the mountains, tea plantations, and Lake Nyasa beaches.
Then come northwards to Tanzania. You can't talk about Tanzania without mentioning Mount Kilimanjaro. Its another “World in One.” But we are selling Mount Kilimanjaro as a unique product, with other products mainly the Ngorongoro Crater, the Selous Game Reserve, and the Serengeti National Park.
Serengeti, too, gets very often confused with Kenya as well, maybe because Kenya sells Serengeti more perhaps than Tanzania, but the bigger part of the Serengeti is in Tanzania.
And, so, is Namibia. In Namibia, you get the uniqueness of the desert, and if you have heard of, for example, the Desert Lion. The Desert Lion is a very unique product because it has very unique features, in real fact that particular lion is found nowhere else on Earth. This kind of a lion with almost no fur, no hair, is purely adapted to the desert.
And then you come to Swaziland. Swaziland is one of the longest and lonel[iest] kingdoms left in Africa. The Head of State is the King at the moment, and Swaziland has one of the richest cultural traditions, which they call “Reed Dance” and which takes place every August and September every year where you get the richest cultural displays of Africans in Swaziland.
Similarly, you come to Lesotho. In Lesotho, you have the biggest and one of the most fascinating cultures where you find an ordinary Msotho (citizen), very ordinary, rural in the village, having horses, not just a horse, but horses. In my home country Malawi, if you talk about horses, [it] is for the rich - not the case in Lesotho.
In Lesotho, every rural person is on horses and it is so majestic as the rural and traditional way of life in their blankest.
In Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) you have, apart from the Congo River, the second longest river in Africa, second to River Nile. As well, is the Congo's thickest forest, dense forest that [is] shared with Rwanda, where you find the gorillas. The gorilla is [a] unique animal and which is also one of the protected animals in the world today.
You go to Angola. Angola is, of course, has just come out of war time, but now, we are talking of huge investments in Angola in terms of roads, hotels, and all the tourism facilities as you can think about.
Although Angola's finances are still strongly based on oil and diamonds, but this country boasts of good investment in infrastructure, while tourism is coming up with very strong force from a very low base, rising to be strong and fast growing after decades of wars and political stalemate.
eTN: What about the position of Seychelles?
Mfune: Seychelles has applied and has been accepted to be a member of RETOSA.
eTN: What about Madagascar - is there tourism?
Mfune: Madagascar is a member of RETOSA. Although Madagascar is a French-speaking country, [it] is very strong on culture and traditions, as well as wildlife.
eTN: Is there wildlife in Madagascar?
Mfune: Yes, there is wildlife, including the Aye-aye, a very unique animal only to Madagascar. It has big eyes; very small animal but with huge eyes. That is Madagascar.
eTN: Can you tell us about marketing strategies to sell the SADC region within its member states and outside its borders?
Mfune: Yes. RETOSA participates at a number of international fairs. First of all, locally within the region, we participate at the annual INDABA fair in Durban, South Africa, and then we also participate at Sanganai-Hlanganani in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Travel Show at [the] local level. Internationally, we do also participate at World Travel Market (WTM) in London; the ITB in Berlin, Germany; TOP RESA; and FITUR in Spain.
We are now planning to go to Asia, like JATA Travel Shows, as well as in China. In China, there [are] a number of travel and tourism fairs, but we haven’t yet decided to which one we are going to participate.
eTN: On marketing strategies, how are you funded?
Mfune: The core funding of the organization is from governments of SADC. However, the Secretariat has of late, mobilized a lot of funding for programs from international cooperation partners, and we have partnered, for example, with the European Union (EU), Commonwealth Secretariat, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to an extent where funding of a program is shared between regional governments, the donors and private tourist business stakeholders. If member governments put one Rand or one US dollar in a program, [the] private sector puts three Rands or three US dollars, respectively. So, one dollar attracts three dollars from private stakeholders. That is how funding is made.
eTN: Are you comfortable with the political situation in SADC countries?
Mfune: SADC region is a very stable one. It is real in the sense that for some time now, since instability in Angola at one time and DR Congo, the region had a dark spot in its political map. But, we are happy that [the] SADC region stands today as one of the most stable regions we can think of in the world. As you are aware of what is happening in North Africa, and so on, terrorism in the world, but thank God, all those problems have alluded us - we are very grateful of that.
eTN: What about air communication and airlines - what is your personal overview?
Mfune: We have the Yamoussoukro Declaration. And this declaration was by our Heads of State who signed this declaration, and in the declaration, it is talking of opening up of our skies without putting unnecessary blocks, to purely blocks that would restrict business. Up to now, it is very difficult to travel in one country to another.
We don't have flights, not as often as you find to our colleagues in Europe. And that is very difficult. For example, one of my colleagues who was coming to Tanzania from other parts of [the] SADC region was forced to connect flights to reach Tanzania instead of taking a direct flight.
So it is a big challenge that we need to resolve, but it is a huge challenge, because it is business. Open skies and air transport are business. So, at the moment there is argument to say, airlines are saying that in certain routes there [are] no enough air lots, not enough air lifting and enough people to transfer.
But then, for us, we are saying how can you create enough people unless there is an aircraft going? So, it is a chicken and egg situation. Who starts first? You market all the products, not the aircraft. So, we are working around that problem and by engaging airlines, big airlines, so we can have some kind of a meaningful solution to this challenge.
eTN: Thank you, Mr. Mfune, for your time availed to this exclusive talk to eTurboNews on tourism development in the Southern African region.
Mfune: Thank you, too.