Rwanda is the newest country in the 54-member Commonwealth and the host of this year’s meeting. The East African nation’s president, Paul Kagame, said his country became a member of the union to benefit from its unity and development.
Leaders of 54 countries in the British Commonwealth are meeting in Rwanda to discuss trade, food security, health issues, climate change, and also tourism.
Commonwealth member states are meeting for the first time in four years to discuss ways to strengthen relations and tackle global problems ranging from health care and conflict to climate change and food security.
Speaking in Rwanda’s capital of Kigali and representing Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s Prince Charles said such a political union is still needed to overcome the world’s challenges.
Among the dignitaries attending is the King of Eswatini, His Majesty Mswati III, the host country of the African Tourism Board.
African Tourism is showing face, with African Tourism Board Chairman Cuthbert Ncube attending.
Jamaica’s tourism minister Edmund Bartlett was wearing his hat as a global travel and tourism leader. He presented the idea and concept for a post covid tourism led framework for promoting economic convergence among commonwealth countries. Commonwealth Tourism at the Rwanda Forum.
Addressing a session on Sustainable Tourism & Travel during the Commonwealth Business Forum Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett argued that the tourism industry holds significant potential to boost economic convergence among Commonwealth economies.
The Commonwealth Tourism Organization was active 10-15 years ago and had discussions in Abuja, Nigeria, and Kuala Lumpur Malaysia on tourism cooperation between Commonwealth Countries.
Here is the transcript of the presentation on a post covid tourism-led framework by Minster Bartlett presented to the Commonwealth Business Forum in Rwanda.
The ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic has produced a severe adverse socio-economic impact on the 54 countries of the Commonwealth stretching across the regions of Africa, Asia, The Americas, Europe, and the Pacific.
The Commonwealth is especially vulnerable to long-term economic shocks because it comprises 32 of the world’s 42 small states, each with a population of 1.5 million people or less (Commonwealth.Org, 2022).
Most of these economies are undiversified and heavily depend on primary industries, external trade, foreign direct investment, and tourism- which have all been severely impacted by the global economic downturn.
In 2021, the World Bank estimated that the Small States contracted by 7.1 percent compared to 1.7 percent for all emerging markets and developing economies (The World Bank, 2021). Small states also face fairly- fixed development challenges related to their narrow resource bases, small domestic markets, geographical remoteness, and vulnerability to environmental disasters (The World Bank, 2021).
The prolonged global economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has, however, offered an opportunity for hard-hit small states of the Commonwealth to re-calibrate their economic relationship with each other and the larger Commonwealth states.
Recalibrating economic relationship among Commonwealth Countries
Historically, trade levels among Commonwealth countries have remained very low. While the Commonwealth boasts the fastest growing countries in the world, with growth over the past two decades doubling that of the European Union, intra-Commonwealth trade amounts to only 17 % of Commonwealth members’ global trade with services trade enjoying a much smaller share, estimated at one-quarter of the total intra-Commonwealth trade (Commonwealth. Org, 2017).
Most Commonwealth countries are exporting mainly to countries located within their immediate geographical zones and with larger economies such as China, The United States, The UK, The Eurozone, India, Australia, and New Zealand.
Given this context, a part of accelerating the economic development of the Commonwealth may lie in fostering greater economic convergences among Commonwealth Countries.
Indeed, the Commonwealth collectively constitutes a sizeable market of 2.6 billion out of the world’s population of 7.9 billion that can be leveraged to promote more robust and sustained macroeconomic growth, especially in the area of export trade.
Tourism as a catalyst for promoting economic convergences among Commonwealth Countries
One industry that holds significant potential to boost economic convergences among Commonwealth economies is Tourism.
In 2019, tourism was the third-largest export category of the global economy, after fuels and chemicals, accounting for 7% of global trade (UNWTO, 2019).
Of the twenty countries in the world where tourism is the largest contributor to exports, thirteen are Commonwealth member states (Commonwealth Innovation, 2020).
Currently, Tourism is the lifeline of Commonwealth economies located in the world’s most tourism-dependent regions such as the Caribbean, The Pacific, the Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean.
Unfortunately, the major source markets for tourist arrivals as well as for supplying inputs, such as goods and services, to the tourism industry in the Commonwealth are the developed economies of North America, East Asia (especially China), and Western Europe.
Consequently, the phenomenal pace of tourism growth and expansion over the years has delivered insufficient benefits to Commonwealth economies, due in large part, to the low levels of tourism trade among these countries which has prevented these countries from retaining much of the revenue generated from the industry
Strategies for boosting economic convergences among Commonwealth Countries through Tourism
The formulation of post-Covid-19 economic recovery and growth strategies for Commonwealth countries requires that these countries urgently rethink the existing frameworks of economic partnerships with the goal of realigning the boundaries of international trade in their favor.
This requires more synergies, collaborations, and partnerships that will foster economic complementarities and convergences among Commonwealth economies.
This will contribute to more value-added economic exchanges between smaller countries and with larger countries of the Commonwealth that will enhance intra-regional capacity to generate economic surpluses and retain more of the benefits derived from macroeconomic development.
The tourism industry can be a catalyst for fostering economic complementarities and convergences through the following strategies:
The promotion of labor mobility within the Commonwealth:
The Commonwealth is home to some of the world’s most appealing tourist destinations attracting high levels of foreign direct investment and poised for continued growth.
Tourism also happens to be one of the most labor-intensive segments of the global economy.
Both can be exploited to promote increased labor mobility across the Commonwealth, especially, since the pandemic has produced a crisis of labor shortage for many destinations and there is also generally a need for more high-skilled workers in the tourism sector, (hotels, attractions, cruises, etc.).
This will require new arrangements that will facilitate the seamless movement of skilled tourism workers across the Commonwealth region and sub-region.
Increasing goods and services trade:
The goal is to facilitate mutual trading arrangements that will enable more of the goods and services that are regularly used in the tourism industry to be manufactured and supplied by entities based in other Commonwealth countries. This will promote greater intra-regional participation in tourism and strengthen the benefits to local economies derived from tourism.
The development of aggressive marketing strategies to tap into larger Commonwealth markets:
Currently, tourist arrivals to Commonwealth Countries rely on traditional source markets such as North America, Western Europe, and now East Asia (especially China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan).
Nonetheless, as Commonwealth countries position themselves to be less volatile to shocks and grow their market shares, finding ways to tap into the lucrative and emerging tourism markets of other Commonwealth countries, especially those in Asia, should urgently form part of their focus.
India, in particular, has a population of 1.35 billion people and is the fastest-growing of the world’s major economies, and is currently the world’s fifth-largest economy.
The increase in disposable incomes and acquisition of substantial personal wealth in India provides a valuable opportunity for greater tourism linkages to be forged between smaller Commonwealth economies and India
Skill development, education, and training:
In the context of the growth of knowledge-based economies, the provision of knowledge has become a key driver of economic growth.
As the growth of the tourism industry continues to accelerate, there will be a growing demand for program and curriculum development to prepare the workforce for the jobs that will be generated across the tourism industry and that will help to raise the standards and prestige of tourism jobs.
This provides an opportunity for regional universities and other accredited centers and institutes based in Commonwealth Countries to offer formal training and certification targeting the citizens of other Commonwealth Countries who are interested in professional development as tourism workers.
The multi-destination strategy is one of three legacy outcomes from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in 2017.
A multi-destination arrangement is based on joint partnerships involving governments airlines, hotels, tour operators, and attractions that will enable visitors to seamlessly travel to two, three, or more geographically proximate nations and stays over in each destination.
Its promotion is consistent with the emerging view by tourism experts that the future fortunes of tourism in specific regions region may lie in economic convergence between complementary economies rather than stand-alone approaches.
This also constitutes a rational approach to economic integration that will allow the benefits of tourism to be spread across more economies in a region, thereby generating more economic opportunities for a greater number of people.
Indeed, successful multi-destination arrangements can increase tourist flows and promote mutual benefits for more destinations in the region.
The role of the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre (GTRCMC)
The Global Tourism Resilience Centre was established at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus in Kingston, Jamaica in 2018 as a global think tank that focuses exclusively on building resilience, disaster preparedness, and managing disruptions to the tourism industry, especially in the Global South.
The Centre has been called to operate in a global context that is characterized by not only new challenges but also new opportunities for tourism to improve the tourism product as well as to ensure the sustainability of tourism globally.
The GTRCMC stands ready to lead a future plan of action by the Commonwealth Secretary to deepen economic complementarities and convergences among Commonwealth countries to greater ensure that tourism development serves the long-term interest of Commonwealth regions and sub-regions.
Tourism in the Commonwealth
Tourism is central to many economies in the Commonwealth and growing industry in most. It contributes 2.7% to the total GDP of the Commonwealth, averaging 6.7% of GDP per country, and employs 34 million people overall. The smaller the economy, population, or country, it has been noted, the greater the significance of the sector to the economy. The highest contributions of the sector for instance are in the Maldives (28% of GDP), Seychelles (24%), Vanuatu (20%), and Antigua and Barbuda (17.4%) – all small island developing states.
In Commonwealth Europe heritage and culture are big draws for visitors; the countries are also wealthy and can extensively deliver top-end tourism. Cyprus has been successful also at drawing tourists from all types of markets from the UK to its beaches in the summer months.
Tourism is, directly and indirectly, central to the economies of the Caribbean; the smaller economies depend on it the most. Geography and climate are major attractions. The Caribbean is a major top-end tourism market and has a growing second home market.
In Commonwealth Asia, Malaysia and the Maldives have been relatively the most successful countries. Malaysia is the second most popular destination in the Commonwealth after the UK with 24 million people visiting the country in 2009, mostly from Asia.
With the exception of Fiji, Pacific island member states with their idyllic natural attractions have had limited success in tourism because of their remoteness and lack of infrastructure, although potential, as experts say, remains. Most of the arrivals are from Australia and New Zealand. Experts argue that regardless of remoteness Commonwealth Pacific islands can do much better given the success of mass tourism seen in Pacific island territories of the USA and France such as Hawaii and French Polynesia, respectively.
Australia and New Zealand attract all types of visitors from businesspeople to backpackers. Tourism Australia, the nationally funded tourism board, largely aims its marketing in Western Europe and North America at the experience seeker.
In Commonwealth Africa, wildlife, climate, and geography are major attractions. It is in wildlife that Commonwealth Africa has worldwide prominence with its extensive and popular game reserves such as the Serengeti (Tanzania), Kruger (South Africa), Masai Mara (Kenya), and Chobe (Botswana). Indeed, it is the national parks in the Commonwealth part of Africa that almost exclusively feature in most travel guides. Some countries such as Mauritius, South Africa, and Seychelles are top-end tourism destinations.
Canada is a major tourist destination. Cultural themes in its four major cities Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and Ottawa are major draws for visitors. Canada is world-renowned for the quality and variety of its ski resorts which no other Commonwealth country can match.
Current Commonwealth Countries
- The Gambia
- Kingdom of Eswatini
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- United Republic of Tanzania
Caribbean and Americas
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Saint Lucia
- St Kitts and Nevis
- St Vincent and The Grenadines
- Trinidad and Tobago