The Indian Ocean region is slowly developing to be one of the major global players in the travel and tourism industry, this was the key message at the ongoing re-birth of the Vanilla Island Tourism Organization (VITO) that is currently being held in the Reunion Islands this week.
UN Secretary General Taleb Rifai said, “Reunion has taken his heart from the minute he stepped of the plane yesterday and strongly announced his support to the Vanilla Island Tourism Organization.”
According to Mr. Rifai, VITO has joined the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as an affiliated member will then be introduced to the global media in the upcoming World Travel Market in London this November.
A special greeting will be sent to the Maldives, host of UNWTO’s World Tourism Day (WTD) (on September 27), which is being held this year is in support of United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation. The UNWTO event is to be held under the theme, “Tourism and Water: Protecting our Common Future.”
The Maldives, as of September 10, 2013, has joined VITO as well. Other current members include the Comoro Islands, Reunion (France), Madagascar, Mauritius, Mayotte, Seychelles.
VITO president Alain St. Ange, who is also the minister of tourism for the Seychelles, explained a ten-point plan for the new organization. This was announced on Tuesday in La Reunion in the presence of other ministers and officials from member regions including Reunion, French Indian Ocean.
According to Mr. St. Ange, the 10 points are:
1) Assistance to small hotels and accommodation companies, restaurants in form of financial opportunities
2) Bringing transportation ministers from all member regions together to commit to work on expanding air travel links
3) Establishing an online presence and market this worldwide
4) Finalizing a logo and announcing a decision within the next two weeks
5) Reaching out to the cruise market and establish a presence in cooperation with the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)
6) Establishing an action plan that promotes the region as one without eliminating or replacing the need of local tourism boards.
7) Inviting other potential member regions to join, including Zanzibar, Sri Lanka or Mozambique/
8) Joining UNWTO as an affiliated member
9) Announcing the organization officially at the UN WorldTourism Day in the Maldives on September 27.
10) Recognizing this was the first meeting for UN Secretary General after his re-election in Zambia and realizing the importance UNWTO puts on working with the new Vanilla Island Tourist Organization
Significantly, it was announced by VITO president that a budget of US$650,000 has been allocated for the new organization. However, he was quick to note that “no budget is ever enough, and we’re already working on the 2014 budget. But this is a start allowing us to operate.”
Mr. St. Ange explained that all member region contributed to the budget with the major contribution of the European Union.
Michael Sik Yuen Mauritian, minister of tourism for Mauritius, said he thinks VITO “is a win-win for every participating country to join this initiative.” Yuen mentioned that the start of A380 flights into Mauritius on Air Mauritius. Air Mauritius can now offer a free extension flights to Reunion for arriving overseas passengers.
Even though islands still attend major trade shows under their own flag, VITO now allows to reach out to other secondary markets as a joint body.
Madagascar’s minister of tourism, Jean Max Rakotomamonjy, said joining the Vanilla Island Tourism organization can only be a gain for his country in joining resources, getting access to new markets.
This was also echoed by the representative minister from the Comoros
The president of the Regional Council of Reunion, Didier Rober, and host of the ongoing meeting, for his part, emphasized that Reunion is a region of France and “is working on an ease of their visa restrictions for those that wanted to visit Reunion.” Reunion, along with VITO, is finalizing a plan for all visitors to get access to this French region in cooperation with a joint visa.
Pascal Viroleau, head of the Reunion Island Tourism Board, said Reunion will work with Vanilla Island member destinations, airlines and stakeholders to further the expansion and influence of the Vanilla Island Tourism organization. “Reunion tourism is growing fast and has the potential to be compared with London or Paris in percentage of tourism growth. If you build one restaurant in a desert, no one will come. If you build 1000 restaurants, you build a city like Las Vegas, and everyone will go.”