Friday, June 03, 2005

[Global Poverty] Poverty Reduction: Tourism Fund for Developing Nations

Justina Okpanku
Seoul, Republic of Korea

Nigeria, along with the entire international tourism community, may be heading for a new all time record as tourism funds will soon be made available for less developed countries.

This fact came to light at the ongoing conference where Tourism ministers from all over the world met in Seoul, South Korea, to discuss an initiative of United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) STEP aimed at eradicating poverty through tourism.

The STEP (Sustainable Tourism Eradicating Poverty) Foundation shall provide support to countries and organisations for the conduct of research and development projects that support research and tourism projects that are in line with the UN Millennium Development Goals and meet UN standards as well as conduct promotions, events, fund-raising activities and other self-financed operations to re-info STEP's own image brand and so on.

Already, in response to Africa's request for funding tourism projects, STEP agreed that Cameroon, Ethiopia, Zambia and Mali would constitute the first batch for funding by the STEP Foundation.

But on Wednesday May 25, most of the representatives were hopeful that the beneficiaries of the funds is not the issue now as efforts are still being made to have more countries to support STEP. Nigeria and some of the champions of the STEP initiatives are likely to be considered as they are asking for projects in the region that will help alleviate poverty.

Evidently, Nigeria's tourism industry is facing tougher funding problem than any other circumstances currently faced by the sector.

Apart from exchange of views on how to optimize the role of STEP, the Seoul conference was also a unique occasion for the STEP Working Group chaired by Nigeria to rub minds with ASEAN+3 NTOs ( China, Japan and Korea) at the opening of their Tourism Conference " Strengthening Tourism Partnership among Asean in Sokcho City, Korea in May 25 2005. The representatives include Nigeria representing Africa, Jordan representing Middle East, Brazil representing Latin America, Italy representing Europe, Indonesia representing Asia, and policy makers from international organizations, tourism SME, large enterprises and observers.

Minister of Culture and Tourism Ambassador Franklin Ogbuewu who is the Chairperson of the STEP Working Group was invited to speak at the ASEAN+3.

Ogbuewu played a highly pivoted role in the international conference just like

President Olusegun Obasanjo is playing in the African Union in Paris, France. He carried the representatives along with the different activities lined up for tourism.

The Minister praised the Asians for the achievements they have made in the tourism industry. Thanking them of their support, he explained to the gathering the meaning of STEP saying, " Poverty alleviation through tourism, including STEP Initiative which was approved by Beijing General Assembly remains firmly on track, and poverty is a disease WTO is determined to eradicate at the global level."

The headquarters of STEP Foundation has been established in Seoul, Korea as a result of the patrimony of the Korean government

Apart from the agreement with the Korea to host the UNWTO STEP Foundation, which was signed on September 2004, the first installment on the committed US$5 million has been deposited in a STEP Foundation account in Seoul (US$2 million).

In the same vein, an agreement has been signed with Netherlands development agency to collaborate on STEP projects through contributions in kind in order to enlarge the scope of the agreement. The Dutch contribution to support WTO's technical assistance linked to STEP amounts to two million euros.

Similarly, Macao (in China, close to Hong Kong) has contributed to the STEP Foundation with an initial amount of US$200,000 in November last year.

Ogbuewu, while delivering an official message at the ASEAN+3 conference, urged the Plus Three countries, the major economies in Asia, for increased support or the UNWTO STEP.

He said:" The meting is planned to coincide with the ASEAN +3 NTOs (National Tourism Organisations). We are therefore asking this group to convey the message of STEP Initiative to your governments as you go home."

He added, " In Africa, we are ready to partner and work with the Foundation. It's similar to NEPAD."

Beyond individual countries, ASEAN is promoting itself as a single destination, to encourage more private sector establishments from China, Japan and Korea and ensure that their tourism is immune against disaster as " it is a special melting point of the world's multi- racial, multi-religious and multi-linguistic characteristics and the sights and sounds are not easily replicated elsewhere in the world."

Even though a draft constitution was formulated for the Foundation in accordance with Korea laws and relevant to UN procedures, Korean tourism officials insist STEP should not be seen as Korean baby as it is truly an international organization.

Before the conference came to a close in Yong Pyong resort, near Seoul, Ambassador Dho of Korea was in position to say that "having the headquarter of STEP in Seoul, the world is already coming. I can see how the world is going to develop. The Republic of Korea has the sincere stand to support tourism."

Amassador Dho praised Nigeria and Ogbuewu in particular for his ernergy and commitment towards sustainable tourism.

The approval of the STEP (Sustainable Tourism Eradicating Poverty) Initiative will take place in WTO General Assembly in Dakar, Senegal in September 2005.