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Indian Ocean tourism cooperation limping
Competing and unsynchronised initiatives among the island nations have occurred often. In 2006, for example, much irritation was created as Mauritius and Seychelles independently launched two similar national tourism slogans within five days of December.
But the Indian Ocean states are the African region most lacking of regional integration in practical terms. Several are members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), two territories are part of the European Union (EU), while Comoros is not a member of any bloc.
Economic structures are miles apart from Mauritius to Comoros. In practical terms, both Seychelles and Mauritius cooperate closer with South Africa than with Madagascar and Comoros, even in the tourism sector.
So while the trade chambers prepare their forum, key players in the tourism industry admit they believe little will come out of the event and similar Indian Ocean integration initiatives.
Louis D'Offay, Chairman of the Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association, says experience had shown him that "our Indian Ocean islands are not yet mentally ready to say that we need to work together."
"Lip service to this noble proposal is still too much in evidence," Mr D'Offay concludes on efforts to unite forces in the Indian Ocean travel industry. Only last month, he had led a Seychellois delegation to meet their Mauritian counterparts over plans to establish a "Vanilla Islands grouping," but little was achieved.
Meanwhile, Seychelles is in the final phase of drawing up its first "Tourism Master Plan", which is to lay the foundation for the development of the sector for years to come. While it will ma
On the contrary, Mr D'Offay reveals. Lessons from Mauritius had taught the sector a need to distance the Seychelles from its main competitor. In Seychelles, all beaches must "remain accessible to all our visitors," the sector leader holds. "Beaches must remain public and gates barring public access to hotels as is the case in Mauritius must be discouraged," he emphasised.
Despite of more frequent professions to regional integration, indeed an increased competition among Seychelles and Mauritius on the tourism market is the trend, especially after the financial crisis last year strongly reduced tourism revenues in the region.
Also despite the "lip services" to integration, the impoverished but highly potential island state Comoros receives almost no help from its neighbours to develop into a tourist destination. The Comoran Tourism Ministry deplores that the 2001 decision to create a joint Indian Ocean tourism organisation "never really was realised" and that neighbour governments have left the initiative to the "private sector only."
Only the region's leading air carriers seem to have discovered the potentials of regional integration. Air Mauritius, Air Seychelles and Air Austral (Réunion) several years ago launched the "Indian Ocean Pass", enabling "island hopping" tourism in the entire region. The commercial initiative has been a lasting success showing the way forward for regional integration.
By staff writers
© afrol News
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