The Tourism sector is considered as one of the cornerstones of the SADC regional economy. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the sector directly contributed around 2.8% (US$19.4 billion) of the total SADC GDP in 2017 and, when considering its indirect and induced impacts, the sector contributed as much as 8% (US$56 billion) of SADC GDP. The sector directly sustained around 2.5 million jobs in the Region in 2017; and in total (including direct, indirect and induced employment effects) more than 6.3 million jobs depended on tourism.

Despite its regional economic significance, the SADC tourism sector remains largely underdeveloped. The sector further suffered drastically in 2020 due to the effects of Covid-19 pandemic in the global tourism market.

However, SADC Member States have initiated measures to mitigate the effects of the pandemic by incorporating the Covid-19 intervention measures in to the SADC Tourism Programme Costed Action Plan.The SADC Tourism Programme 2020-2030 itself was approved by the Joint meeting of Minsters responsible for Environment, Natural Resources and Tourism in Arusha, Tanzania in 2019 with a view to fast-track sustainable growth of the tourism sector in the SADC Region.

The Protocol

The Protocol on the Development of Tourism establishes tourism as a priority for Southern Africa and sets out SADC’s intention to use it as a vehicle for sustainable development. Through promoting balanced progress of the tourism sector that optimises use of the Region’s resources, the Protocol on the Development of Tourism aims to foster the tourism industry for the betterment of livelihoods. 

Likewise, the Protocol on the Development of Tourism suggests Member States improve their quality of service, safety standards, and physical infrastructure as a means of attracting tourists and investment into the Region. In signing the Protocol on the Development of Tourism, Member States recognise that improvements in tourism can benefit from involvement of the private sector. Therefore, the Protocol encourages cooperation between governments and private developers through a favourable investment climate that promotes sustainable tourism, preserving the Region’s natural and cultural resources.

Current Situation

Despite its regional economic significance, the SADC tourism sector remains largely underdeveloped. As a result, the Region has been suffering from small market shares and low tourism economic yields. Average receipts per arrival in SADC were US$670 in 2016, substantially below the global average of US$1,004 per arrival.

Some of the major tourism competitiveness challenges at SADC regional level that the tourism programme 2020-30 will address include brand building and image management, Information Communication Technology (ICT) and internet access, international visitor access and openness (including air access policies and visa regimes), ground and air access infrastructure, conservation of natural resources and quality of cultural experiences.

TransFrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs)

With tourism expected to increase extensively in coming years – constituting up to 58% of Africa’s tourism total by 2027 – SADC has developed strategies for encouraging the sector. Its Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan has proposed the creation of TFCAs as a means of promoting tourism as well as ensuring conservation of biodiversity.

These ecological conservation areas cross national boundaries, often incorporating nature areas from several countries. Development of these areas responds to a shift in tourism markets away from traditional sun-and-surf vacations toward experiential holidays focused on adventure and absorption of cultural heritage. 

At present, Southern Africa has 18 TFCAs at differing stages of development, which contain 38 World Heritage Sites such as Victoria Falls, Mana Pools National Park, and the Richtersveld. Many of these World Heritage Sites are currently inaccessible, with few tourist amenities; development of TFCAs offers improvement to these sites, which will further drive tourism. 

Although these TFCAs offer a way forward for sustainable development in the Region, they are currently hampered by lack of an effective institutional mechanism for coordinating regulations and policies. These areas span national borders, which subjects them to incongruent national laws that can constrain development. 

Therefore, SADC urges its Member States to cooperate on a harmonised legal and policy framework based on a common vision and mission that facilitates development of these areas for improved conservation and socio-economic benefit of the Region.

Integration of the Boundless Southern Africa Programme in to the SADC Tourism Programme 2020-30

In an effort to intensify the development and promotion of tourism in the TFCAs, SADC Member States established the Boundless Southern Africa Unit in 2009. The Unit is responsible for, among others, coordinating TFCA destination marketing efforts better through common branding; developing more cross-border tourism itineraries and routes through more TFCAs; and supporting work towards removing obstacles that hinder cross-border tourism development in SADC TFCAs, among others. Member States have developed modalities for integrating the BSA programme into the SADC Tourism Development Programme 2020-2030 in order leverage on the current success of the BSA and intensify the integration of TFCA in the Region.