Consequently, the Indian Ocean region is gaining in the market share of worldwide tourist arrivals and by 2020 one in every nine (or around 11%) tourist arrivals would be from an Indian Ocean country. The tourism sector has tremendous potential in the Indian Ocean region. Substantial benefits could be accrued by Member States through the enhancement of tourist and marketing linkages within the region. Cultural exchanges contribute to the development of mutual understanding and goodwill, and open channels of communication that could serve the interests of Member States.
Member States are to develop a common vision of the tourism sector as an engine of economic growth. The importance of tourism as a driver of economic growth in IORA is particularly for acute in the case of LDCs and SIDS is extremely important. Indeed, it is already perceived as an instrument for poverty reduction and fostering sustainable development in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
It is crucial for Member States to strive towards regional cooperation in tourism, especially to achieve sustainable tourism growth in the region. The lack of regional cooperation inhibits tourism development in the Indian Ocean region. Member States must work out a consensus on how they are going to collaborate to increase tourism productivity and sustainability. There is a need to promote Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and tourism business networks in the region and to develop regional projects.
Capacity building and workforce development should be included in the agenda of regional cooperation. Member States that are already established as successful tourist destinations can forge partnerships with emerging destinations in the Indian Ocean for quality tourism sector training. Joint marketing efforts by Tourism Authorities from Member States through trade fairs and workshops can be used to raise the tourism potential and the profile of the Indian Ocean. It is important to promote tourism not only at the global level but intra-regionally as well.
Visa facilitation is a priority in order to increase tourist arrivals among the Member States. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has mentioned that opening the region would definitely lead to growth in tourist arrivals and tourism businesses.
The significant role of culture and heritage in societies must be recognized by Member States. Culture and heritage plays an important role in moulding the daily lives, identities and values of individuals and societies. It is important to acknowledge the diverse cultures and heritage of the Indian Ocean rim and how they can be useful for its growth and development.
Engaging with culture and heritage in IORA, Member States would be able to contribute to the sustainable development of the region. UNESCO has repeatedly stressed how culture and heritage can contribute significantly to society through environmental protection, social capital and economic growth.
Culture and heritage may be sustainably exploited for the tourism industry. The immense potential of Member States heritage and culture needs to be further developed for tourism use by involving the local community. This will lead to sustainable local development among Member States.
Steps need to be taken to strengthen heritage management and capacity-building through cooperation among IORA Member States. The lack of heritage management skills as well as the fact that culture and heritage are being impacted by global phenomena must be acknowledged within IORA. It is important to address these issues in order to protect and conserve the rich and diverse cultural heritage with which the Indian Ocean region is endowed.
Research in the cultural field in the Indian Ocean region needs to be intensified. There is a need to create an IORA culture and heritage database, so as to be able to grasp the challenges and opportunities connected with this area.
The cooperation between Member States are essential in this sector which needs to be further developed through joint projects and capacity building programmes for enhanced connectivity within the region.