SADC scores towards smooth movement of tourists

THE number of tourists visiting the SADC region increased from 12.6 million in 2000 to about 23.2 million in 2013, according to the Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa (RE-TOSA).
Travel to the region is promoted by the SADC Protocol on the Development of Tourism. Ratified in 2002, it seeks to improve the quality of tourism services, safety standards and physical infrastructure to attract tourists and investment into the region.
The Protocol states that traveling in the region can be made easier by abolishing visa requirements for visitors. It calls on SADC member States to create a “tourism univisa which will facilitate movement of international tourists in the region in order to increase the market and revenue of the region in world tourism.”
The launch of the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) Visa between Zambia and Zimbabwe in November 2014 is the first step towards adopting a univisa in the SADC region. During the initial phase, the KAZA Visa allows tourists from 40 countries to combine travel to the two SADC neighbours without applying for travel documents separately.
Valid for 60 days, the US$50 visa gives tourists access to both countries and allows entry to Botswana through the Kazungula border post which serves all three countries.
“About 7,000 KAZA visas were issued during the first three months of the pilot phase,” says KAZA Secretariat programme manager Mbiganyi Frederick Dipotso, noting that the project exceeded expectations. Despite being introduced in the low season, not enough visas could be issued to completely satisfy demand, for technical reasons.
After the current pilot phase is assessed in mid-2015, the next step will be to extend the visa to fully cover Botswana as well as the other countries that share the KAZA Transfrontier Conservation Area, Angola and Namibia. While this is a small step, it is a critical move in the right direction.
The aim is to eventually extend this arrangement to all 15 SADC countries, thereby implementing a univisa that allows tourists and others to move effortlessly across the region.
What is good for tourists is also good for the business of tourism.
“A univisa encourages free movement of tourists but it also enhances the appetite for investment,” says Kwakye Donkor, Marketing and Communications director for RETOSA.
“It means we encourage people to stay in the region longer as they have access to more than one country. Longer stays create more jobs and the local community then stands to benefit.”
The KAZA Secretariat’s assessment of the pilot phase will include reviewing challenges of equipment, access and infrastructure needed to support the rollout of a regional visa.
“The KAZA landscape has great potential for tourism growth as some of the areas are currently under-utilised,” notes Dipotso.
For travel agents like Owen Mungabo from Zambia, the impact of the univisa is slowly being felt. There is a steady stream of tourists coming in and out of his Travel Shop in Lusaka who are looking for exciting holiday destinations in the country and beyond.
“We are happy to see more tourists as Zambia is becoming more accessible to tourists,” he says, adding that greater benefits will be felt during the tourism high season.
“We hope to get people coming to the sub-region in masses,” he says. – SADC

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