Magazine article African Business

Retosa Takes Leaf from the Caribbean to Create Recipe for Success

Magazine article African Business

Retosa Takes Leaf from the Caribbean to Create Recipe for Success

Article excerpt

Southern Africa has taken a leaf from the Caribbean tourism success book and set up its own multinational tourism body, Retosa. Larry Luxner has been finding out how effective the body has become.

Several years ago, tourist officials from throughout southern Africa -eager 3 to lure well-heeled visitors to their countries - looked to the islands of the Caribbean for inspiration and liked what they saw. The result was the formation of Retosa, an acronym for Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa.

"As far back as 1992, the region realised it was essential to work together in order to be effective," says executive director Shepherd Nyaruwata. "Retosa itself is similar to what the Caribbean Tourism Organisation is doing. In 1993, when the region was beginning to look at the rest of the world, we began exchanging ideas with Caribbean tourist authorities."

Like southern Africa, the Caribbean is spread out across a large area, encompassing over a dozen countries and territories that speak many languages and have little in common except for poverty, an African heritage and a lingering colonial mentality that hurts rather than promotes - economic development.

Yet the Caribbean also boasts spectacular natural beauty, and millions of tourists visit the region every year, pumping billions of dollars into island economies. The most important destinations are Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Cuba, the US Virgin Islands and Aruba.

Selling Sauthern Africa

Tourism to southern Africa, on the other hand, is extremely uneven. Just one country, South Africa, accounted for 52% of the region's 13.4m tourists last year - more than the combined tourist arrivals of Retosa's 13 other member nations: Angola, Botswana, Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Around 70% of those 13.4 million tourists were from within the region, i.e. South Africans visiting Namibia, or Swazis crossing the border to Mozambique - not exactly tourists in the true sense of the word. The AIDS scare and concern about violent crime has hurt South Africa, and in some countries like Congo and Angola, wars have slashed tourist arrivals to zero.

Clearly, when it comes to attracting visitors from the North America, Europe and the Far East, southern Africa still lags way behind the Caribbean.

"Basically, we're trying to establish southern Africa as a destination in the minds of tour operators, travel agents and tourists. We're also looking at establishing partnerships," says Nyaruwata, a 47-year-old Zimbabwean with a bachelor's degree in geography from Oxford, and a planner by profession.

"Initially, the main office was going to be in Mauritius, because the infrastructure was there," he told African Business. "But we eventually decided to put the headquarters in Johannesburg, because it's the commercial and airline hub of the region."

Retosa's budget is quite small - $900,000 this year, rising to $1.1m in 2002 - with 80% of its funds coming from member nations, and the remaining 20% from the private sector. Each country pays the same amount regardless of its size, says Nyaruwata, noting that "if they contribute equally to the budget of the organisation, they'll have an equal say."

Meeting objectives

Established in 1997, Retosa is the official tourism body of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). As such, the chairmanship of Retosa changes from year to year. Its board of directors consists of two members from each country - one from the private sector, one from the government.

"We are meeting our objectives," says Nyaruwata. "In our 1998-2002 business plan, the key objective was to maintain a 7% annual growth of tourist arrivals to southern Africa, and that has been maintained. Secondly, we aim to provide adequate promotional material, initially for the travel trade, and then for the consumer, third to establish communication with the travel trade and overseas. …

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